For the past six weeks the Lowell High School Robotics team has been preparing for this year’s competition. Wednesday evening and most of Saturday the team has spent at Lowell Middle School each week working on their robot. The year’s theme is Power Up. Individual teams work with two others to form an alliance, each attempting to get as many points as possible during each match.
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a program in which participants from around the world compete. Michigan has approximately 1,700 teams looking for a shot to move up the ranks.
The competition theme, rules, etc. are revealed in early January. “Each team has the same weight and cost restrictions, and teams are provided with a Kit of Parts to get them started. FIRST provides a significant manual of size, weight and other restrictions and teams need to stay vigilant that the robot is well-within those regulations.” says Heidi Nagel, one of the parent mentors. While staying within regulations, each team creates a robot capable of performing various tasks needed during a match.
Last year’s theme was Steamworks. This year the theme, Power Up, gives teams new challenges to complete as a means of earning points during matches lasting two and a half minutes. The first 15 seconds of each match the robots move on their own, attempting to complete an objective. The remainder of the match, students take control to complete one of three tasks – control switches and scales, earn power ups, and climb the scale.
Yellow cubes, which are covered milk crates, are collected and placed in specific locations in the arena. The alliance with the most crates placed on the switch or scale have power of the element and earn points for each second of control. Cubes may also be delivered to an alliance station where human members of a team for each alliance can place them in a vault, where levitate, boost, and force power ups can be earned. These power ups help alliances gain extra points or one free levitation at the end of the match.
In order to “take down the boss”, during the last 30 seconds of the match, teams wanting to earn bonus points will attempt to attach to a pole, which is about a foot long and 7 feet above the ground. Points are awarded for each robot which is able to be raised at least 12 inches off the ground. The Red Arrow robot hopes to be able to reach up for the pole, pull itself up, and have the ability for another robot to attach and be raised. This ability will make them a team to seek out when forming alliances with other schools.
Alliances of three teams are stacked up against another trio. Alliances are formed each round through scouting and overall strengths and weaknesses of each robot in order to form a competitive team. Lowell team #3234 has looked to be a well-rounded competitor, giving them an advantage compared to other schools.
More than a Game
The 24 students on the team, including three girls, work together on various aspects of building and programming their robot. Portions of the game arena are built to scale so practical application can be had when testing throughout the six-week build season. Six middle school students are also participating on this year’s team and a record number 11 adult mentors offer support. Chad Philo has returned for his second year as Head Coach after years of experience as a mentor.
Students are assigned one of eight work groups. Each group has an adult mentor and student leader which oversee tasks. These groups allow students to work together, learn leadership, and focus on one component.
Nagel provided the following descriptions of the objective(s) of each group.
- Bumpers – build bumpers used to identify and protect robots during competition
- Chassis – determine the drive train and build the physical base for the robot
- Components – prototype and build mechanisms to achieve the specific tasks required of the game
- Electronics – build electronics to power the robot, including communications between drive station and the robot on the field
- Field Build – build the necessary portions of the game arena so the team can practice with the correct dimensions etc.
- Programming – write the code to issue instructions and power the robot
- Scouting – write an app for both Android and iOS devices to monitor and track the success of other teams in order to build the best alliance (if we get to the finals)
- Spirit – design and decorate the team’s pit, including safety posters etc., recognize sponsors, design team shirts, cheer during competitions
Lowell Robotics isn’t simply about building a robot and competing. Many lessons are learned and other experiences along the way help prepare students for life after high school. The first few months of each year is considered the busy season, however the team works throughout the year to prepare.
Students contact and work with local businesses to obtain sponsorship. This year eMotion Controls is the team’s primary sponsor. Other businesses and organizations supporting the team are Mosaic Wealth Management, Alto Lions Club, Metric Manufacturing, Savant Automation, Portland Federal Credit Union, All-Weather Seal, Dykema Excavators, and Canfield Plumbing & Heating.
The team also raised money during their bi-annual Memorial Day Plant Sale, setting a record earning $4,000, and by selling walking tacos during the Alto Harvest Festival. Seeking sponsorship and raising money is a lesson in explaining what the team does, what they need, and personally working events.
Lowell’s robot has also made appearances along the Riverwalk during events such as the Riverwalk Festival. A highlight of the summer for the team may just be their annual cardboard boat race at Stoney Lakeside Park.
Cheer on the Team
Today is called bag day for the team. All teams must complete any building and programming of their robot. Additional changes cannot be made until competition begins. Lowell will travel to Flint for its first competition March 8-10 at Kettering University for qualifications followed by regional competition in Kentwood March 29-31 at East Kentwood High School.
During competition each team will have a pit where modifications and fixes can be made between matches at competition. As with a sport like NASCAR, small tweaks can make a big difference. And knowledge from match experience can help determine if a robot can be made to perform even better.
The Lowell team is eager to head to competition and see all of their hard work in action. They invite and welcome spectators to come along and cheer them on, visit their pit, and learn more about robotics. Visit the team’s Facebook page to keep up to date on how competition is going and when to catch this year’s cardboard boat race. Go Red Arrow Team #3234!