Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Son's FIRST Robotics Team Competed at a Third Regional

The third regional FIRST Robotics tournament that my son's team, 1477 Texas Torque participated in this season was the Lone Star Regional held in Houston, Texas on  April 5-7, 2012.

My son attended all three days and spent most of his time doing scout work: watching and documenting the actions of robots on the field. This is done in case our team made it to the top 8, they would know who'd they want to pick to be the other two teams on their alliance. While scouting, they look for robots who have good drivers, robots which can handle the obstacles on the field, robots that can balance well on the bridges, and have other good skills in game play (as well as noting which teams struggle with various tasks).

I attended for the second day of seeding rounds then the third day which included the finals. My sons is independent at these events and barely looks my way. That's the stage we're at in both his teenage maturity state and with his general independence and comfort level with his teammates and mentors. I sat in the stands with other parents with my monopod and 300mm zoom lens and DSLR camera and refined my skills at shooting in manual mode long distance at things moving quickly while the stands shook from people climbing the stairs or stomping their feet to cheer. It was a challenge for me take decent photos to say the least.

Before I tell how it went I will share some of the process. I am proud of the kids on this team for being forward thinking and very good under pressure. When this was happening all I could think was this is what it is really about: having problems, brainstorming solutions, making a change and seeing how it goes, tweaking that, and hoping for the best.

The first thing that happened was the mechanism that drew in the basketball was sometimes not functioning perfectly at past competitions, so back in the lab, the team completely redesigned it with a very different system. They installed that at the end of day one. Starting day two it was clear that thenew system had a problem and there was some new problem with the programming. Both problems meant low scoring points. By lunchtime the team was ranked 43 of 53. It was painful to see to say the least. Over lunch break they figured out what was wrong with the ball intake, and they worked at the programming.  That afternoon they saw that both problems had been solved. By the end of seeding rounds the team had climbed to 7th of 54! Our team was confident that they'd do well in the finals.

The team wound up in an alliance with 624 CRyptonite of Katy, Texas (again) and 2773 IRONDOGZ from Edmond, Oklahoma. They competed well and made it to the top two. Everything was going great and they had a 50/50 chance of winning. Due to the high scores they were getting, I thought winning was a real possibility.

It was a shock in the final two to suddenly see our robot had a new major problem! For the first time in this competition, they lost the internet connection which meant the remote controls could not move the robot!

Troubleshooting while in time out between final rounds

They called a time out after losing the first round and worked at it. In the second round, they again lost internet connection and lost the second round. So the other alliance won 2/3 and it was over! Thus my son's team came in second place at the Lone Star Regional. I think watching an alliance suffer due to a robot being dead on the field, especially in the finals is the most painful thing to see happen!

Some friends have said to me, "You didn't need the regional win to make it to Worlds since the team already qualified to go." The problem is that team 2773 won't get to Worlds. Team 624 already had qualified to attend with the alliance win with our team at Bayou. Our technical probem let down the IRONDawgs, and that's sad.

In a speech later that night, the lead mentor said that having problems like that is how real life works, and how engineering on the job works also. It is so important that kids learn these skills of problem solving, testing, and making changes on the fly under pressure.

The season isn't over yet: the team is off to World Championships in late April. Because we homeschool, my son can't take the bus the school paid for, so my son and I are flying up together. I'm glad we had miles to use to pay for those tickets. I'll be in the stands cheering teams on and snapping photographs. My son is so excited, and I am too.

I've said it before but I'll say it again: I am so grateful that this team exists. This has been one of my son's favorite things to happen to him since moving here. He enjoys it so much he is planning to phase out of some of his other extra-curricular activities to spend more time with the team next year and beyond. I am happy that he is learning more about engineering which he has always said he wanted his career to be. It's nice when the reality of something matches a wish or dream. If something were to happen to this team and my son could not participate it would be a crushing blow and a tragedy.

1 comment:

christinethecurious said...

Congratulations team!

(those must have been tricky photographic conditions)