Centreville Robotics Competition


Will Rantis

On December 15th, the Centreville Robotics Club brought teams to the school to participate in the FIRST Tech Challenge, which our school hosted. Having worked for months to prepare their robots for competition, the teams were eager to test their mettle against the many competitors they would face. They quickly made final checks on their robot as the clock counted down to the first match.

The FIRST organization, where FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”, is an organization dedicated to expanding interest and knowledge in science and technology. To do this, it holds a variety of different competitions and challenges, such as the FIRST Lego League and the FIRST Robotics competition. This weekend, our school hosted the FIRST Tech challenge.

The FIRST Tech Challenge, abbreviated as FTC, is a challenge that is run by First. From the first weekend of September to the second weekend in December, students work to build a robot designed to meet the challenges posed by FIRST. In December, teams from the local area meet at one school to compete. Teams work in groups of two which can switch after a match, this being referred to as an alliance. The teams that win at this competition will go onto states, and if they win that competition level they will go onto worlds.

Teams can also win awards based on conditions other than how well their robot did completing challenges. The Motivate Award, for example, is given to the team which best shows such qualities as working as a team and reflecting the core values of FIRST, such as gracious professionalism, which can be summarized as encouraging respect and value for others. Most prestigious of the awards is the Inspire award, which is given to the team that is judged highly in all award categories. One of our teams in a competition earlier this month got this award, with the judges saying that the team clearly valued their members and interacted seamlessly as a team. The leader of the team, Christian, said of it that “It was a team effort; no individual member was the key to us getting it. We all worked together to earn it.”

To build a successful robot robot requires many skills, like strategizing, designing, programming, and electrical engineering. However, nobody needs to have these skills when they join. “There’s a stigma that you have to be smart to join robotics. and that’s not true at all,” said Bov, an adult mentor of the club. Teams are set up with a mix of experienced and inexperienced members, with older members of the team meant to teach younger members of the club the skills the team will need to succeed. By competition, new team members will have been taught new skills which they can improve and refine with future competitions, eventually becoming the qualified older students who will teach the next crop of Freshman.

This year’s FIRST Tech Challenge, or FTC, is called SKYSTONE. The main method of point scoring is to take bricks located on one side of the game area and place them onto the alliance’s Foundation on the other side of the game area through one of the three gates. The match is played in two and a half minutes and three parts. The first thirty seconds is the autonomous period, where robots execute pre-written instructions. The next two minutes are human controlled with the last thirty seconds of the human controlled period being the end game period. Bonus points can be scored in any of the periods for completing certain tasks, such as moving the foundation in autonomous mode, creating a tower of bricks in autonomous mode, and placing a capstone on the tower in the end game period.

One team’s approach to this is to keep the robot small, but to have a tall reach. In doing so, they designed a linear slide. Their robot has the capability to both deliver pieces through their alliance’s gate for extra points as well as having the ability to lift the blocks higher to build a higher tower and place the capstone. Another approach was demonstrated by another group, where they only focused on quickly obtaining bricks, forgoing the ability to stack them entirely. This approach focuses on the fact that they will compete on an alliance with one other robot; by specializing their function they can team with a robot specialized in building. Since each can perform their own function optimally, it should theoretically be faster than two robots performing the same task that are more generalized in function and build.

A former student and member of robotics came back after graduating as an adult mentor. When asked about why he joined robotics, he replied that he was curious and decided to check it out his sophomore year. He described himself as being intrigued with it and came back day after day for the learning experience. Now as an adult mentor, he gives that experience back to the club he was a central figure in. One thing he emphasized was that as a mentor, his job is not to instruct teams what to do, but to help them envision what future steps they should take to complete their plan. Mentors also work to make sure that teams are safe in what they do.

On the day of the competition, teams get set up in the pit, a place where the robot can have maintenance performed on it. They also set up posters about their team and their robot, which are examined by the judges to assist in assigning the awards. The engineering notebook, which describes different aspects of the robot as well as outreach goals, financing, and the team is also submitted to be judged. In addition, arenas are set up so that teams can try their robot on a game field.

Of the teams we deployed, one of them got to the final alliance and lost. Our teams in this gathering have won the Think Award (3rd), the Connect Award (2nd), the Finalist Alliance 2nd team selected, and the Control Award. The achievements are significant gains, especially as one of our best performing teams, team 13447, is coordinated by Centerville as Middle School teams. The robotics team, not content to rest on their laurels, is working toward the FIRST Robotics Competition next. If anyone is interested, they can be found in the first floor A hallway after school. I would recommend anyone interested, even vaguely, to check it out.