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Local teams to compete in robotics championship

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Tired but excited students from Lancaster High School boarded a bus at 4 a.m. this morning in the cold wind for their trip to St. Louis, Missouri for the 2014 FIRST Robotics World Championships. They will reunite with their robot Cortex who was shipped to St. Louis several weeks ago.

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The Eagle Robotics Team 399 is looking forward to testing their skills against competitors from around the world in the competition as well as having fun holding court with their annual Roboprom. Joining the Eagles and their robot Cortex in St.Louis will be the Palmdale Aerospace Academy’s Robotics Team Gryffingear 5012.

“I think it’s gonna be really, really awesome because all of the best teams are going to be there,” said second year team member Ruth Nuttal. “We’re on a pretty good field this year and hopefully were going to get pretty far this year, seeing all the other teams, and I’m thinking we’re going to be able to go to Einstein Field this year.”

The Championships this year consist of four division fields—Newton, Archimedes, Curie and Galileo—each made up of 100 teams. The winners from each division will go on to compete on the Einstein Field for the finals. The two Antelope Valley teams will compete on separate fields—Lancaster on Archimedes and Palmdale on Galileo—against teams from the US, Israel, Mexico, and Canada.

Even though they didn’t make it to the Einstein field last year, Nuttall found still found it exciting to watch the other teams in the finals. “I really liked watching the Einstein Field last year, it’s pretty awesome. The best of the best,” said Nuttall.

In order to make it to the Championships Team 399 first attended three regional events in the Inland Empire, Utah and Las Vegas. They won the Regional in the IE and then lost the next two regionals due to foul points.

“We lost one of our matches because we were accidentally holding the other team’s ball but it was because our alliance member was accidentally standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and they couldn't spit it out fast enough and it was just sitting there in their robot so we received foul points for that,” said Nuttal. “It was nobody’s fault but that was the rules of the game.”

Their loss at the last two regionals was tempered by the fact that they had already won a position. “It was okay but it was still slightly disappointing because at Utah we thought that we should have been able to go further...things just didn't really go our way.”

The competition uses alliances composed of three teams from different schools. Each team is only allowed one robot which they are only allowed to work on during competitions so it’s important that each team have spare parts ready. If a robot breaks down during competition a substitution can be made using another team but after a long day of competition even that can be problematic.

During one of the semi-final competitions, team 399’s alliance had a robot malfunction. “We had to call in a backup because one of our alliance partners broke down and then the backup was kind of in worse shape than the robot we had before and so it wasn't great,” explained Nuttal who works on the competition sub team which controls all of the electronics, programming and pneumatics on the robot.

Building Cortex

Build season begins in January and each team has only six weeks to build their robot. Once build season is over it’s hands off. No repairs or changes can be made to the robot except during competitions. In order to develop their driving skills Lancaster’s team builds two robots; one to practice on and one to compete with.

“What we've been doing the past few seasons which is really like unique is that we build the two robots exactly side by side.” Explained veteran Natalie Wenzel. “They are exactly the same so when we ship this one off we can practice driving and programming and putting new parts on this one so when we get to competition we just download the new program, which is allowed.”

The robots are limited in size and weight and have to meet certain specifications outlined in the FIRST rules.

Watching

The games can be watched on smart phones or the Internet by going to science.ksc.nasa.gov/robotics/ Competition begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.

Competition

At the regionals three different schools partnered up to form an alliance with each match composed of different team members. The students have to learn quickly to compete together with total strangers. While the matches are taking place, the other team members scout out the competition and decide who they want to form an alliance with for the semi-finals. These three schools form a team that stays together through the semi-finals and finals so it’s important to choose wisely as these alliances can make or break it for the competition.

Awards

The Eagles won their first regional in the Inland Empire and also won the Chairman’s Award which is the highest award given out at the regionals. The team had to give a presentation to the judges on their team’s activities and community outreach programs. They also submitted a winning application for the Woodie Award for their mentor David Voracek. This is the highest award a mentor can receive at any of the regional competitions.

This is the Gryffingear’s first year of competition and they won the Highest Rookie Seed, Rookie All Star Award at the Inland Empire Regional and the Rookie All Star Award and the Industrial Safety Award at the Las Vegas Regional.

Scoring the Game

According to the FIRST website “the goal is for teams to work together to advance the ball down the field and score into their alliance goals at the far end of the field.”

Teams earn points by making goals through the high goal posts, over the center beam and placing the ball in a low goal post.

The match begins with a 10 second autonomous period during which the robot has preprogrammed instructions. Each goal made during this period earns a 5 point bonus. In addition bonus points are awarded for making a “hot” goal and for moving from the center zone to the team’s home zone. During the regular play of the match points are awarded as follows: low goal – 1 point; high goal – 10 points; two assists - 10 bonus points; three assists -30 bonus points; over the truss - 10 points; catching the ball - 10 points. Robots are allowed to block the goals but foul points are awarded to the opposing team if an alliance has possession of the competition’s ball or pins the opposing robot for more than five seconds. Matches have been lost in all three regionals due to foul points.

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