Monday, January 31, 2011

FTC Robotics: The Tournament #1

Yesterday was our very very first time as a team competing in an FTC tournament. Wow, was that exciting! It came down to the wire on Friday and Saturday with marathon sessions to get the robot ready to pass inspection and be allowed to compete. Then bright and early Sunday morning we all piled into the vans and drove to Portland for the tournament.

The first exciting thing is that we passed the hardware and software inspection on our very first try! This is not as easy as it sounds. It involves a long checklist that includes presenting a Bill of Materials for the different items you've used on your robot, having everything mounted securely, fitting the entire robot and attachments inside an 18"x 18" x 18" cube, using the correct length, width, and thickness of materials and only the materials on the approved list (no duct tape allowed! these robots have to be engineered, not slapped together). Also using the approved software templates, having the correct wireless protocols (an alternative to Bluetooth called Samantha that's still in the Beta stages), and having both autonomous and driver controlled "tele-op" programs installed on the robot's NXT brain. Here, Mackenzie and teammate Dustin talk with the inspection judge about the parts used on the robot.

Then we discovered that a huge part of the tournament is in creating alliances and scouting other teams to discover their advantages and disadvantages. You play five matches in the qualifying rounds, and in each match you are allied with one team (randomly selected) and play against two other teams. Each robot and driver team brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the playing field, so each match needs a different strategy. The good teams go around and assess each robot and team early in the day to determine how to play the game to their advantage.

Then comes judging, where several rounds of judges grill the team about the robot, the programming, their community involvement, how they operate as a team, decision-making processes, etc. Part of the point of this exercise is to guarantee that one of the main tenet's of FIRST competitions is upheld: The kids do all the work. It quickly becomes apparent if adult coaches, mentors, and technical advisors have had input into the process, or if the kids on the team have owned all of the decisions (both good and bad) and actually did the work themselves. Also, both the scouting and the judging encourage the kids to develop good communications skills.

After that, it's time for the exciting part of the competition: five rounds on the robot arena, paired with different teams. Despite coming into this competition thinking of it as a "learning experience" since this was our first time, our team did really really well! Our first couple of rounds were a little shaky. Our robot acquitted itself well and our driver team of Mackenzie and Dustin turned out to be outstanding. But penalties caused by our alliance partners wiped out all of the points we gained in the first two rounds, leaving us with a score of 0! It was a little disheartening, but the kids on the team stayed very positive and were having a great time. Then things turned around and they really started getting the hang of how to partner and talk strategy with their alliance teams. By the end of the 4th round, we were in 3rd place! In the last few matches though, the top teams bumped us down and we ended in 7th, but still had a very exciting day overall.

Our most exciting moment was in our last match. We were allied with a good team, but were up against the #1 and #2 teams. It was a really tough match, but ended up very close. In the last few seconds, we managed to balance both ours and our alliance's on this teeter-totter element on the arena that's called "the bridge". That's tough because one robot has to push down the bridge with an attachment, then drive up on it. Then they have to tip it toward the other robot, let them drive on, and then somehow balance it. Meanwhile, the other team was balanced on the bridge and "the mountain". So the end of the match looked like this. All of these balancing places scored points for the teams.

All in all, I haven't seen Mackenzie look so overall excited and happy in forever. He was definitely in his element between the robots, the strategy, the alliances and the game play.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Robotics Team Headed to Competition

I haven't had the time to sneeze lately, let alone keep up with my blogs. So I apologize, especially to those family members who come here looking for kid photos and updates. This weekend is a microcosm of the craziness that is our life these days. Saturday morning I coach the Master's swim team. By noon I need to have Asa at a dance performance. I'm also doing the photography for the dancers. That gets done at 4:30, by 5:00 we're having our last robotics practice before heading to the tournament at 7:00 am Sunday morning.

But the good news is that our robotics team t-shirts arrived and they look awesome! Mackenzie designed the shirt this year, so here he is modeling it. If you think he looks even taller than he did the last time you saw him, you're absolutely right. He's grown over an inch and a half  SINCE CHRISTMAS. No, that is not a typo. He's just a hair taller than Wayne now.

The team spent seven hours today working on the robot, getting it ready for competition. Sunday we'll drive over a hundred miles and spend all day at the competition, returning home around 9:00 pm. So it will be a CRAZY weekend. Wish us luck!

Friday, January 07, 2011


I'm too far gone on this blog to catch up. For some deluded reason, I thought I'd have tons of time over Christmas break to write, download photos, etc. etc. but of course I didn't. So imagine I wrote a bunch of great stuff about Asa in the Nutcracker Remixed, and Mackenzie's robotics stuff and all that. Hopefully I'll get to add in some details later.

For now, I'll leave you with this beautiful Haiku that Asa wrote about her birthday kitty Miguel:
My Cat

Orange blur in the grass
Orange fur in the windy breeze
A warmth on your lap