Robotics team competes well but barely misses States


RoboVikings team members Enes Eroglu, Franklin Wei and Justin Eiben monitor their robot’s autonomous performance. The team’s autonomous mode was particularly strong, netting the maximum possible 80 points most matches. (contributed by Ray Alford)

Northwest’s FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Robotics team competed at a qualifier hosted by Northern High School on Feb. 2nd. The team, dubbed the “RoboVikings,” barely missed advancing to States, coming up just one slot shy. The team is currently slated as the First Alternate in case an advancing team cannot go.

The FIRST Tech Challenge is a high school-level robotics competition in which students design, build and test robots to complete various tasks, which vary from year to year. This year’s challenge, inspired by space missions, consists of building a robot that can attach to a large, four-legged “lander” to lift and lower itself. Additionally, the robot should be able to maneuver itself autonomously around the field and over obstacles. Points are scored by picking up small “Minerals”—plastic cubes and spheres—and placing them in designated scoring areas.

Northwest’s robot this year was built on treads and had a rotating arm that could raise to attach the robot to the lander. A spinning intake was mounted on the underside of the robot and used to pick up Minerals.

“We figured that with a successful autonomous and endgame, we could get enough points to outscore teams based on just those two areas,” team member senior Garrett Brandt said.

In the initial qualifying phase of the tournament, the RoboVikings did extremely well, winning four of their five matches despite a mechanical failure one round. The team’s one loss came when the driver, yours truly, failed to latch to the lander in time, costing the team 50 points. The team’s performance ranked it 4th among 22 teams.

After qualifying, the team was chosen to join an Alliance—a group of three partner teams—in the Elimination matches, which are played in a best-of-three format. The RoboVikings’ Alliance won the first match but lost the second, making the third match decisive.

The third match got off to a particularly bad start—Northwest’s robot collided head-on with its Alliance partner, overturning it and rendering it inoperable for the duration of the match. The team pushed on alone, but as the clock ran out, it looked as if the RoboVikings had come up short—by just two points.

But then, cheers engulfed the arena: the scoreboard updated, giving the RoboVikings a 13-point lead. As it turned out, the overturned robot had been in just the right spot to earn a 15-point parking bonus—true serendipity.

Sadly, the RoboVikings went on to lose the Final match against a much stronger opponent but still managed to clinch several awards: the team earned the Connect Award for community outreach, and was a runner-up for several design-related awards.

“I think we put in a valiant effort to come in fourth place,” team coach and CTE teacher Ray Alford said. “(The team) did a tremendous job by putting together a team effort with the design and also with the outreach, (engineering) notebook, and collaboration.”

The RoboVikings travel to Southern Guilford on Feb. 9th for another shot at advancing to States. Until then, the team is busy perfecting their robot.

“I think we can (probably) make States next time,” Brandt said. “The autonomous and endgame we did well (last time), but we need to work on (driver-controlled mode). If we get that down, we’ve got this.”