Wednesday, October 26, 2016

FIRST Robotics - Up and Running

Some FIRST Robotics teams run year round.  We are not at that level of intensity yet and in particular have many members who are also in Marching Band.  So it was a Saturday in late October before we could get the team together again.   

No shortage of things to do.  The customary pep talk and review of the season past, then a look ahead at the 2017 campaign.  It looks promising.

But first lets tear down all the field elements we built to practise last year's game.  With the theme this year being "Steam Punk" it is unlikely that assorted castle parts will be called for.

The "Main Event" of the day was our (second) annual Mock Challenge.  In the regular season they get six weeks to design, build and test a robot capable of doing many functions with a high degree of reliability.  For our purposes we went with building robots that have rather simplistic tasks.  But the kids only get three hours to work.  No time to waste.

This year they were in effect building robot "dump trucks" that had to deliver and gently set down a wide array of objects under radio control.  Extra plus points for things like balls that try to roll away.  Extra points plus OR minus for fragile things like eggs that arrive either intact or...otherwise.

Although a puny imitation of the serious earthmoving equipment that was working across the street from us, CATERPILLER was a well built machine.  The scoop was hooked to a linear actuator and could be angled to dump things in the right spot.  A loose battery wire did hinder its performance for a while.

Of somewhat more chaotic build this unnamed robot had a vice on the front that could be remotely opened and closed. When loaded up with barbels and such it was a bit front heavy.  By unofficial scorekeeping it also "won" the competition. 

An assortment of Objects that had to be transported.  The garden gnome got broken even before the time trials.  The creepy undead figurine with soul sucking eyes, alas, lives on.

Ready to roll.  We did a couple of runs and Objects actually did get delivered to the designated target areas.  And to quite a few other places as well.  Pretty solid work for a three hour build exercise.

Remarkably the egg made it through intact.  Maybe not so remarkably.  I did have it wrapped up for transporting to the site.  And when one of the kids pointed that out and said it would only be fair to use it in that fashion, I could not argue.  It's always good to keep them hunting for rules loop holes.

Star of the day though was last year's robot.  I had the programming team whip up an autonomous program that would let it also play the game.  So it was put in the starting area and "the button was pushed".  Unguided by human hand it purred up to the target area, lined up the shot and launched a cardboard box to the exact center of the target.  It then turned around - I swear it did so with an insolent little flounce - and drove itself back to the point of departure.

Yikes, tournament level autonomous programming at our first official team get together.  It's gonna be a fun ride.

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