The FIRST Robotics Challenge

The FRC is a completely new kind of competition for Northwood, and for the first time ever, we have had a Northwood Robotics Team compete in it. Unlike any other sport Northwood has to offer, the FIRST Robotics Competition requires students to design, build and code the actual ‘athlete’ that will play on the field, all within a six week time period.

JIL_9620.jpgIt all begins with The Reveal, when the FRC officials announce what tasks the robot will have to compete in for this year’s contests. This happens six weeks befo
re the first week of contests, and then the building begins. For 2016, the competition is The First Stronghold, a medieval themed playing field with 9 different possible obstacles and towers to score on and seize. Robots need to pull down drawbridges, shoot boulders both low and 10 feet high, open gates and lift themselves on the tower and much more. Three teams form an alliance each round and compete against other alliances in 2 and a
half minute long matches. The first 15 seconds are done automatically through the robot’s code, and the rest is tele-operated, controlled by the drivers.

Northwood collaborated with APW high school and Clarkson University to form Team 5240, Udder Chaos. Both our schools contributed to the building and design of the robot, while Clarkson oversaw us as mentors, aiding in coding. Being so far apart, we had to communicate online through a website designed by Clarkson, and only got to meet each other the day before the the New York Tech Valley FRC.

thumb_IMG_0543_1024There were many problems during the six week building period: parts taking too long to ship, loose wires, code trouble and even the robot’s computer ‘brain’ getting fried up. Since Northwood took on creating the shooter section of the robot while APW built the driving base, we encountered a few difficulties when uniting the two pieces together. When the building time was up, our potential for the contest seemed bleak.

Two weeks after, when we left for the New York Tech Valley, we did not have high expectations, but still strived to do our best. We met up with a few APW students and our mentors from Clarkson. At 7am the next day we joined in for the ‘building day’ that precedes each contest. All 36 teams had a small area called a pit, which acts as your workshop during the competition. Teams had banners, power tools, lots of safety equipment and trophies everywhere, along with computers for coding. We worked furiously for 12 hours until we got the robot to function.

Our robot could have been best described as the underdog of the competition, weighing about half the weight of the other contestants. Teams came from all over – Holland, Canada, China, Hawaii and many states, with custom-made robots equipped with high tech shooters and aiming systems, while we had a robot that still had plywood as a base for our shooter. When game day came, we had a positive surprise as our robot won match after match. Our team had the advantage of great driving skills combined with a small and agile robot. Despite its simplicity, our robot could overcome every obstacle, and this scored us high points, taking us all the way to the semifinals.

With an outcome of 3rd place, Northwood and APW decided to compete in another contest, and so the next week we were at it again at RIT, competing against 49 teams. This time we went in with more experience and with a better prediction of the event. Once again we got ranked in the top 8 teams and went on to the quarterfinals where we came out 5th overall, losing to the team that went on to win the entire tournament. On both accounts, the team had lots of fun. The FRC is not only about robots, but also about befriending other teams, showing your team spirit and getting together with people with similar mechanical and technical interests.robot

On top of getting 3rd and 5th place, team 5240 also received the Judges Award, a distinction for being a unique team with innovative ideas. This is one of the most prestigious awards other than ranking top 3. We also received a ‘Best Dressed’ Award from another team as a friendly gesture, as they liked our mascot in a cow suit the best.

Northwood plans on attending the FRC next year again, as an independent team, but still enjoyed our time with APW and Clarkson as Team 5240.

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