I stay quiet most of the season now on the blog as they have a huge presence in the FTC universe - their You Tube Channel just passed 51,000 views this season - to avoid giving away any of the robot design/strategy secrets.
|We hadn't even been in the building for ten minutes and|
already five teams had come by to look inside the bot.
This year's game is a shooting game with many twists that make it hard. The first 30 seconds are autonomous and the robot alliance (two randomly assigned teams in the qualifying matches) gets three balls to shoot. The robot tries to automatically shoot them into their colored 'vortex' (basket) and then moves off towards two beacons that have buttons on them. The robot tries to determine which side of the beacon is lit its team color (red or blue) and then press the button to turn both sides their color. If the robot successfully finds the beacons and does that twice - the team gets two more balls to shoot with in the driver controlled period. The point value for doing those things as well as the extra balls makes this autonomous period worth almost half the points of the entire game. So if your autonomous doesn't work - you will almost always automatically loose the game at the higher level.
So in the driver controlled period, having only 5 balls to shoot makes the time to collect and shoot them crucial. The more times you can go through that cycle, the more points you can make. So our double collector design is key - we can collect balls without turning the robot around, wasting time. The basket is designed to scatter the balls in all directions, making you drive all over the field and avoiding other robots to get the limited balls. So if somehow you could shoot into the same wedge of the basket every time - your balls would roll to the same area of the matt making collection again faster.
The kids have spent almost seven months working on this mind-bending programming - designing a custom control system for the flywheel system that shoots the balls. It takes the range from the basket automatically, compares that with the data they collected on how far the ball will go at a particular flywheel speed and chooses a speed. Another sensor system turns the robot to align it to the basket, reducing the need for the driver to aim (and allowing us to have so many drivers). But, when a ball goes through the shooter, it slows down the flywheel. So the control system has to come quickly back to the same speed before the next ball feeds up so it will go to the same place in the basket. And it has to do that without overshooting the speed by feeding too much power to the motors. Most of the kids hadn't had enough calculus to do it - so one of the math wiz's on the team had to come over one day and figure out tons of derivatives on the white board. And what an amazing thing - they all saw the real life application of calculus just as they are all starting to take it.
It works. We are collecting and shooting more balls than any team. But remember, that autonomous has to work for us to get to that stage. Oh, and there is a dumb yoga ball on the field too. It is bigger than the robot is allowed to be - you have to grab it and lift it six feet in the air and balance it on top of the basket at the end of the game for more points.
So their strategy has been working. They won the Inspire (top judged award) and Robot game at their qualifier in December, qualifying for the MA State Championships. Then the Inspire and Robot Game at the Vermont State Championship - getting one of the two spots to qualify for the East Super Regional.
The video above shows a finals elimination match at the Vermont State Championship to show how the game works. Our partner actually forgot to turn their robot on. Once the autonomous starts - no hands inside the walls - so it couldn't be corrected. So it was us against the other pair alone. Our kids put up 225 points by ourselves and won.
Then two weeks ago, they went to the Massachusetts State Championships. We had our seniors drive in three of the five competitions and had some troubles during the day with our autonomous. We ended up 15th of 32 in the qualifying matches to everyone's surprise. Massachusetts is actually one of the very hard regions of the world and two of the top teams decided to pair up specifically as they were sure they could beat us if they did - in a pretty confident way in fact. And the numbers supported that - they should handily beat us in the robot game if we met up in the final eliminations as we three were the top performing teams over the whole season - way above everyone else.
|Our alliance partners and us at MA States. |
Robot Champions again against all odds.
And one of those two teams we beat was my son's high school. The coach is the teacher for AP Programming and the entire team is in that class with David. He walked into class on Monday and the leaders sheepishly admitted - yeah - we should have picked you as our partner instead.
Normally very humble, he responded simply 'Never count me out.'
Why that is important is tomorrow...