Thursday, April 9, 2009

FIRST Robotics Team 1836, Pt. I



An Introduction...
Last year, I joined my high school's FIRST Robotics team as a senior. This year I have returned to serve as a college mentor, because FIRST is the most awesome competition I have ever participated in.

In the way of our wins to losses ratio, we may leave something to be desired. But in our defense, we're entirely student-led (the force behind many high ranking teams are professional, adult mentors) and our funding and facilities are limited (we own a drill press and table saw, while some teams own a warehouse and their own CNC). In any case, FIRST makes it very clear that FIRST is not about points, but rather, gracious professionalism. The key thing, I guess, is that our team is all about the hands-on experience and having a lot of fun.

FIRST 2008: Overdrive
The point of last year's competition was to zoom around a track whilst herding and throwing large (think pilates +) balls. We aimed for just the first goal with a tiny, ~50lb robot called the "Rapid Rabbit Robot" that reached speeds of about 13 mph. It turned out to be a bit difficult to control on the field, but was great as a motorized chair to ride around campus. You can see videos of us at the 2008 LA Regional at thebluealliance.net (I'd suggest Qualifications 36).

Our major success of 2008 was a giant castle set piece that framed our pit area. To complete the theme, we introduced our team mascot (the knight) and distributed inflatable plastic swords. As a result we won the Spirit Award, and began our team tradition of winning something in a category unrelated to robot performance.

FIRST 2009: Lunacy
This year's competition is defined by low friction wheels and a low friction playing field. Robots drag trailers behind them, and points are scored when balls (whether launched by a human player or robot) are scored in the opponent's trailers. We decided to aim for a full-fledged robot this year (with a manipulator and all) as illustrated in this beautiful CAD drawing by our very own Ryan Abrams (who is off to UC Berkeley next year!).

Here are some (slightly blurry) photos:





Unfortunately, we never really got the manipulator working. And we came in 20lbs overweight, AND we didn't bother weighing it until Robot Inspection and Check-in Day...You can see our scoring breakdown for the LA Regionals here, though no video is up yet. The bottom line is that the one match our alliance won is the match for which we were busy fixing up our 'bot (so they set up a dummy wheel to hold up the trailer instead). To go into some detail, we didn't even move for about half the matches.

On a brighter note, Eli won the Animation Award (a FIRST-related competition) for his 30 second piece envisioning a new kind of wall.

Atlanta, Georgia
Since the National competitions are usually underpopulated, it is possible to get in by lottery. As luck would have it, we got that privilege this year, and so portion of Team 1836 is flying out to Atlanta next Wednesday (myself included). It'll be a challenge, considering we need to install and test a replacement manipulator mechanism, do routine maintenance, and leave time for the programmer to calibrate her code (and I'm talking about a first-time calibration, not a fine-tuning calibration; the camera mount angle, motor values, color threshold definitions, and other such constants are are based on my best estimates). Oh well, I guess I like the adrenaline rush. Definitely better than spending my week falling asleep in lecture!

Some more team info...
As listed on our snazzy red coveralls, our current team sponsors include:
-The Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology and the Leslie Zola Science Scholarship, who graciously provide us with funding
-The wonderful Findlay's Machine Shop, where we get our parts cut and drilled
-Z Manufacturing Inc., where the amazing Stephen Ziolkowski welds our 'bot together
-Perceptronics Solutions, for whom I now work (with special thanks Onur Sert, our first adult mentor)
-And finally the Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles, who have provided us with additional access to machining facilities

Finally, because I unfortunately have no better photos or footage of this year's robot in action, here's a video I made of our prototype-bot, which basically served to confirm that a 4WD would be more than enough to drive on the playing field. Special thanks goes to Valve, makers of the beyond-awesome Team Fortress 2, who incidentally own the music accompanying this non-profit, educational-use video.

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