Robotics to take part in FIRST contest

By Austin Block

Members of the Robotics Club will pit their robot against about 60 other robots in the Los Angeles Regional of the international For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition starting tomorrow. The competition at the Long Beach Arena extends through Saturday. Across the world, over 1,500 teams are participating in the FIRST competition. According to the FIRST website, if the team places in the top three in the regional or wins one of two specific awards, the team could advance to the FIRST Championship in St. Louis in April for the first time.

This year’s competition has two main parts. In each round of competition, two teams of three robots will face off against each other. On each side of the arena, which is about 27 feet wide by 54 feet long, six vertical poles are placed with protruding pegs at heights of three, six and 10 feet. Robots must pick up inflatable tubes and place them on these rods. Teams get varying numbers of points for placing tubes at different heights and in different patterns.

In the last 10 seconds of each round, robots must rush to the center of the arena, where four more columns stand, and release a “minibot” onto a column. The first minibot to climb to the top of a column earns its robot bonus points. For the first 10 to 15 seconds of the competition, robots must also operate autonomously, using sensors to recognize lines on the floor as they compete.

Partway through Saturday, the top eight robots earn playoff spots. From there, each of of those teams picks two other teams to compete with them in the playoffs. However, if the first place team picks the second and third ranked teams, for example, the next seven highest ranked teams then get to pick teammates from the remaining pool. This selection process continues until eight teams of three are formed. By the end of the day, one team of three robots will remain and advance to the FIRST Championship.
“One of the jobs in the competition is not only do the best job possible but advertise your team because getting in the top eight is really difficult,” team Co-Captain Chase Basich ’11 said. “There are a lot of really good teams out there but you want to make them want to pick you.”

After only making the playoffs as an alternate last year, Basich said he expects the team to compete in the regional playoffs this year. He said that many of the 60 teams’ robots will be unable to drive, and still others will be unable to successfully pick up inflatables and place them on the pegs.Members met before the nature of the competition was even revealed, learned how to use tools and built what Basich called “pet projects” to practice building certain devices and parts. On Jan. 8, the competition began, and they shipped the bulk of the robot six weekends later.