Monday, April 11, 2016

FIRST Robotics - Riding the Streak

None of our kids knew what to expect at their first FIRST competition.  It is in a Big City and they are small townies.  It is loud and bright and chaotic. Out of 60 teams present we were one of only three rookie teams.  I had woken up at 4 am the morning we left asking myself "What have I gotten myself into?"  Probably a few of the kids had the same thought.

The event filled a college hockey arena with field on one end and pits on the other.

We got there in good shape and a funny thing happened.  We were ready and almost nobody else was. All those little tents and kiosks were full of kids (and too many adults ) frantically drilling, tightening, tweaking.  It took us a little while to navigate the paperwork but before noon on the practice day we were ready.  So we just kept tossing the robot into the arena for one practice match after another.

This was key to our subsequent success.  We found that the controls of the robot had somehow become reversed, so our drivers were actually running it backwards a couple of practice matches.

And they were so darned good they were scoring points and winning practice matches.  Backwards.

When the main competition began our drive team was ferocious.  They were inventing point scoring tricks on the fly and modifying tactics effortlessly when the other teams figured out that these humble rookies were running circles around them.  At one point we had the number two ranking.  One of the matches they won came when the on board camera had been jostled and was pointing at the ceiling. They appear to have navigated by orientation of the rafter beams.

Another key was the pit crew.  A simple robot constructed out of solid materials does not break very often.  But they had the routine down pat right away.  The robot comes back from a match, the batteries get swapped out, tested, secured down, all vulnerable connectors inspected.  The Official Motto of the Pit Crew is on their checklist board.

And the kids who did not have assignment to pit, software or drive teams were also busy.  We had two official photographers.  We had several PR kids who spent the entire event chatting with passersby official and casual.  On their own initiative kids had made flags and an animated robot bird with glowing LED eyes to protectively watch over the pit.

Instead of being embarrassing newbies we found ourselves among the top ranked teams.

The kids took the pressure well.  I on the other hand approached the situation with caution.  A team on a streak has to respect the streak.  Since I did not sit with the team in our first win I had to continue to stay away for all the other matches.  Because the kids were doing fine without us I and my fellow coaches stayed out of the pits unless asked for help, and that was uncommon.  One kid had left his hat behind in my car.  I gave it to him but said, "Don't you dare start wearing it".

Most teams are out after the qualification rounds.  But we ended up at 6-2 and with enough extra ranking points to be one of the top finishers.  This made us one of 8 "Alliance Captains" that get to pick the other two members of their team to take into the finals.  For rookies this is a highly unusual scenario and it was a darned good thing we had discovered a few days earlier that one of our kids loved statistics.  We had him parked in the spectator section for the entire day and a half of qualification matches.  Perhaps his data made a small difference.

When you are the number 8 ranked alliance and have to go up against number 1 it is a little like your tavern softball team going up against the New York Yankees.  Inspirational, sure, but you are probably not going to prevail.

And we did not.

But still a great run and the experience we gained will help us out for years to come.  More robot stuff all week.  Here's a few pictures...

As I always tell the kids, show up on time and with batteries fully charged and you will do well in life.

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