By Mary O’KEEFE
The Crescenta Valley High School Falkons Robotics 589 team is diligently working on weekends and after school and using any free time to get ready for the 2015 FIRST (For Inspiration and Research in Science and Technology) competition.
On Jan. 3, FIRST announced this year’s game, Recycle Rush, and 589 immediately began to brainstorm on what their game strategy would be and, subsequently, what their robot would look like.
Each year, high school robotic teams, both nationally and internationally, participate in regional competitions. Each year is a new and challenging game. Once games are announced, teams then get only six weeks to complete their robot.
In years past there have been robotic versions of games that resemble soccer, basketball and tic-tac-toe. This year is a little unusual in that teams are being asked to build a robot able to stack totes on top of each other and dispose of litter. The equipment used includes recycle bins, foam noodles and totes.
“It is very different [this year]”, said Jacob Poole, a CVHS senior and this year’s 589 captain. “I think it is less interactive. We are not interacting with the enemy team; we are actually playing against them.”
Teams are composed of two alliances of three teams each. One of the options is to throw a noodle, representing litter, into the opposing team’s area; however, depending on where it lands, it could actually help the opponent.
Students need to decide first how they want to play the game and then create a robot accordingly.
“[Our] thought process is what is going to be the best way for our team to [play]? What is our strongest suit? In the past we’ve mainly gone with one section, like last year we were on defense,” Poole said.
That discussion on strategy started on Jan. 3 and decisions had to be made quickly because the team has just six weeks before they “bag and tag” their robot to be sent off to the regional competition.
They also have to take into consideration the way other teams may play and how their team can make strong alliances with other teams.
This may seem like a lot for high school students, but for 589, this challenge is what they wait for all year long, and Poole is among the most anxious.
A robotics path was not exactly on Poole’s mind when he first met with the club.
“My freshman year I didn’t want to come [to the 589 meeting]. My friend asked me to come. He said, ‘I don’t want to go alone’ so [I dragged myself] out of bed and got here,” Poole said. “The first day was very eye opening for me because I didn’t think I was going into robotics, I was just playing games at home. When I saw what robotics was, I was really entertained by it, and really wanted to go more into it … to see what was actually there.”
From that first day, Poole was hooked. He plans to double major in computer science and electrical engineering in college.
The team is composed of students with all types of interest, from math and science to business and computers. Just like any other team, it is about how the players work together that make the experience successful and fun.
“It’s not about completing a robot, it is about completing a team,” Poole said.
That teamwork could be seen the following weekend, Jan. 10, when students were busy working on programming and reviewing the game rules.
The team took time out for a visit from Assemblymember Mike Gatto.
The students are always happy to share their love of everything robotics and FIRST. Gatto was impressed and found that driving the robot was not as easy as playing a video game.
“You have to push this [controller] forward as the robot rolls back. It’s difficult to get used to,” he joked with the 589 drivers.
Gatto toured the computer room where students were programming; he watched a video describing this year’s competition and was given a quick history of the team by teacher/mentor Dr. Greg Neat.
The students were so excited that Gatto stopped by they convinced him to take a “selfie” with them – something they immediately put on their website.
For his part, Gatto was impressed not only by the students but also those who mentor them.
“I was blown away,” he said of his visit. “This is one of the reasons why the Crescenta Valley is so special. To have this program going on, to have members of the community involved who are volunteering their time – it is just awesome.”
The 589 team is planning on competing in two separate regional competitions this year, one in Long Beach and the other in Ventura. They are raising funds to support those trips and to pay for the competition fees. To support the team, contact Dr. Greg Neat at CVHS by calling (818) 249-5871 or visit www.cvrobots.com.
There are three teams in the area including Clark Magnet High School and La Cañada High School that are FIRST competitors.