Monday, January 31, 2011
FTC Robotics: The Tournament #1
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 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.
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.