Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Robot is Tougher than Your Robot

This past Thursday, Friday, and Saturday was the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Utah Regional Championship.  FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology.  It is an ever-growing organization with several different age divisions that makes science and technology not only very cool, but very fun.
Clark, Elinor, and even Faith have been involved to varying degrees for several years and Clark was so fortunate to be a part of the very first Utah championship FIRST Lego League team that went to the World competition in St. Louis three years ago.

Those boys have grown up a few years and were ready to take on the high school level competition of building much bigger robots and competing in a game that changes every year.  This year it was called "Aerial Assist".  Here's the playing field.

Here is our robot (3230) in action, mid-game.  Here's a brief run-down on how the game works.  There are two teams, each consisting of an alliance of three robots.  So six robots on the field at a time.  For the 12 qualification matches the alliances were randomly assigned.  Your team tries to score points by shooting into goals or over the center truss of the field or pushing the ball into a goal in the corners on the ground.  Meanwhile, each team is defending against the other team scoring.   Think of a brutal sporting event for robots.  There was a lot of contact.  Occasionally a robot would get knocked over or parts broken during a match.
Between matches the robots were transported back to the "pits" for tune-ups and repairs.  You might notice that sometimes our robot is red and sometimes blue.  The bumpers were changeable depending what color our alliance was for a match.
The atmosphere at a FIRST event is very exciting-- much like a sporting event.  Many of the teams have mascots.  Most teams were upwards of 30 people while ours was amongst the smallest-- only about 12.
There is a lot of pin collecting from the different teams.  Anyone can wander through the pits- providing you have your safety goggles on-- and talk to team members.
Little brothers visiting the big brothers' robot.  They loved the "pits".
There is a large area on the floor in front of the playing field that was usually filled with kids dancing in between matches.  There is always fun music playing.
For those not busy with robots, it is prime time for visiting with friends.
Camille and I did our best to keep track of and entertain little ones.  Her husband, Keith is the team's coach.  It is a major commitment and he has done a marvelous job, earning the respect of all the boys.
Andrea and I have had a lot of good times sitting through hours and hours of robotics competitions over the years.  Good times.
Eventually all the excitement was too much for George and he succumbed to a little happy nappy.
We went for a little while on Friday, but the whole family was there all day on Saturday.  The qualification matches ended around noon on Saturday and they were very enjoyable.  Of the twelve matches we played, we were 9-3 and ranked 6th out of 48 teams.  This was great positioning coming out of qualifications because that's when things got really fun.
The top 8 teams had a representative come out onto the field for what was basically a draft.  Starting with the top team they chose their alliances for the final rounds.  There was a lot of politicking back in the pits and a lot of statistical calculating to figure out what your best alliance would be and if those teams want to be with you.
Finally our team was situated and it was onto the quarterfinals.  Each round was best 2 out of 3 in 2 1/2 minute rounds.  We won and it was onto the semifinal.  Unfortunately our chances didn't look good as we were up against an alliance consisting of the two top ranked teams, plus one other.  We were cheering like crazy.  I cannot remember any sporting event ever where I got that excited.
Unbelievably, we won the semifinal match and were headed to the finals!
Here is our alliance shaking hands with their alliance just before the finals.
Well, we didn't win the finals.  That wasn't to be our ticket to St. Louis for the FRC World Championship in April.  But that was okay because we thought we had a pretty good chance to win a very prestigious award called the Chairman's Award for the team that best embodies the values of FIRST.  Our team had done a lot of volunteer work in the community to foster interest in engineering and STEM related fields.
But then just before that award was given out our team won one named "Engineering Inspiration".  Oh, well.  No St. Louis.  At least we won something.

But then to our surprise our team leader, Adrianne, informed us that not only did this award include an invite to St. Louis, but it paid our team's very pricey registration fee as well.  This award might not have been as prestigious as the Chairman's Award, but this was the only one with a grant attached to it.  It was like the Chairman's Award with teeth!
So, HOORAY! We're going to St. Louis afterall!
The team with coaches and mentors.  The team name is PrototypeX-- thus the X arm signal.
Here is a picture with our other two alliance teams.  On the left is the Waterford team, which is where Abe's nieces go to school.
We were quite thrilled with the day and the season, but it was such a celebration when we all realized what the award meant. 
 There was a team ice cream party that evening so the revelry could continue.  I think Clark just liked the safety goggles too much to let them go.
It was a magical, fun, exciting day.  What great memories for Clark and for our whole family to be there cheering.  I've mentioned before how our kids are always members of chronically losing athletic teams.  It has become a family joke.  I won't feel too bad about that, because they seem to end up on very winning robotics teams.  I'll take it!


Amy F. said...

I love this!

Schramm Family said...

We had so much hanging out with you guys! You ready to do it again?!