Monday, March 31, 2014

The First Competitions

Team 4992, the Spartans competed at the First Waterloo Competition March 20 - 22 and at the North Bay Competition March 27 - 29. Both competitions provided the students with many opportunities to grow, learn and mature. In their first 2 outings they got to see what happens at a competition both behind the scenes and on the field. The team was able to come together and work to solve problems and strategize through a combination of observation and discussion.

On Wednesday March 19th one other student and I took the robot along with a toolbox and several boxes of spare parts to the Physical Education building at the University of Waterloo where each team is given a 10 foot by 10 foot "pit" area with a table and power. The next day we set about making the area useful for robot repair and maintenance and discovered we needed a way to stow all of our coats and bags. That night I bought some plastic shelving and a collapsable picnic canopy to help organize and define our space.

Our first inspection revealed a misunderstanding in the pneumatic circuit setup that required a rebuild of the entire high pressure side of the system. With the loan of a couple of parts from 1334, our friends in Oakville, we had the bot up and running in time to do some practice rounds on Thursday.

Friday saw the robot performing as required while the students quickly developed a deeper understanding of the Aerial Assist game play. Due to the scoring structure of this years game alliances of 3 teams were able to score very high by passing the ball from human to robot to robot then over the truss to human to robot to high goal. Our team quickly found their place as the lead robot, taking the ball from the first human player and passing it quickly to the next bot. Most of the other alliances at Waterloo concentrated on the same cycle and by Saturday morning we saw scores approaching 300 points. The repetitive cycling made for a dramatic and enjoyable show for the audience and relied on driver skill and robot performance.

4992 finished the round robin with a rank of 20 out of 30 and was picked by the teams from Rick Hansen Secondary in Mississauga and St Davids in Waterloo to form an alliance Saturday afternoon. They continued to play the rapid high score cycling game which saw them through right to the final match where they were defeated. You can imagine the excitement of the team, the parents and the teachers as the alliance progressed through the afternoon. I think we hurt our faces smiling so much and many of us were hoarse and deaf from the shouting.

The competition in Waterloo relied on parent volunteers driving several student to and from Waterloo each day. The competition in North Bay was organized centrally by the school board since all 7 Halton teams appeared and we would need buses and hotel rooms. Generous donations from our sponsors made it possible.

The teams at the North Bay event were much more aggressive about defence and seemed to enjoy brute force pushing and shoving over the finesse and skill seen at Waterloo and so we saw very few high scoring rounds. Many more bots seemed to be plagued with electrical and mechanical malfunctions as well. Our robot made it through to the elimination rounds on Saturday afternoon, forming an alliance with our cross town mentors from Milton District High School and Burlington Central High School making our alliance the "Halton" alliance. Unfortunately the pushing and shoving continued along with the break downs and our alliance lost 0 - 2  while the afternoon was young.

The students should feel proud of what they have achieved and they will certainly have gained many of the skills and much of the knowledge they need to continue with First Robotics next year. We had some help from 2 Stackpole International engineers, Andrew and Kelly and from a Discovery Precision Engineering machinist (team member parent) but keeping the club going will require some more mentors to help with the team organization and teaching. It was a lot of fun doing it all myself but very tiring and the team was often limited by just one adult in the room. We will be able to get a better start next year by revisiting this years challenge and doing some design work around Aerial Assist for practice.