By Mary O’KEEFE
On Saturday, students in robotics clubs all over the country got up early to sit in front of their computer screens to view the one thing that would be occupying every moment of thought for the next six weeks.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) released its annual game for this year’s Robotics Competition. Each year, FIRST, which was founded by inventor Dean Kamen, releases a game that challenges students to build a robot and compete against other high school teams. They are given specific requirements as to how the robot is to be built and how to play the game. They have just six weeks to design and build their entry.
On Saturday, students on the Crescenta Valley High School Falkon robotics team gathered in the afternoon to begin the FIRST process. Most had seen the video earlier that morning in their own homes, so they had an idea what challenge they were to face. But at school, the video was cued up for the team to watch together.
This was the first time the team had gathered since the winter break, so there was a lot of chatter, a lot of catching up and then the lights dimmed and the video began. Not a sound could be heard except the announcer welcoming everyone to FIRST and the new game “Ultimate Ascent.”
The video explained the challenge that Falkons’ team captain Stephen Mansur described as a cross between Frisbee golf and rock climbing.
The Frisbee golf part: Discs are thrown into goal slots at the far end of the field. The more difficult the goal positions, the higher the score.
The rock climbing part: There are two pyramid scaffoldings, a blue and a red, each with three rungs that can be climbed by the robot. The higher the climb, the more points awarded.
Two alliances of three teams compete. Just like all sports teams, there are defensive and offensive players. So the question posed to the Falkon team is what role will their robot play and how will they build it.
“This is a good follow-up to the toilet paper launch,” said teacher/mentor Dr. Greg Neat.
That launch was part of the robotics’ recent Jet Propulsion Laboratory Invention Challenge when students had to invent a robot that would throw a roll of toilet paper farther than their opponents’.
Neat said in that case, as in the new challenge, the students had to take into consideration how wind and air currents would affect the trajectory of the toilet paper. Those are the same considerations that will need to be taken with the disc.
In the past, the challenges have been games similar to basketball, soccer and tic-tac-toe. This year’s game is more challenging not just because the robot will most likely have to pick up and throw discs, but it also adds another dynamic with the climbing. In the past, robots received extra points if they hung on an elevated bar, but this year the robot must climb the pyramid sequentially meaning that it must move from bar to bar rather than just pull itself up to highest point.
Not all team members have to be CV High School students.
“My mom saw this team and thought I might be interested,” said Daniel Ferrio, a freshman from Village Christian School. Last year Ferrio attended the FIRST convention.
“I got to go into the pit area and spoke to one of the [team members],” he said. That’s all it took for him to get hooked on robots.
Ferrio said he had seen the previous games and this one does seem more involved but he is anxious to start working. He is interested in engineering and also in programming as well.
“I will just wait to find my way,” he said.
Mansur has been in robotics for four years. He is a senior and this year, as captain, is looking forward to this new challenge.
“It does seem like one of the hardest [challenges],” Mansur said.
He added that not only will the robot throw and climb but the dimensions of the robot are smaller this year than in the past.
Even with all the new challenges, Mansur is ready to captain his team.
“It’s fun and a lot more work and responsibility,” he added.
Now the team begins its non-stop brainstorming, designing and engineering process. They will build, experiment, tear down and start again. There will be times when they want to throw their computer across the floor, which they would never do, and times when they will cheer because the robot moved maybe only one inch in the correct direction. There will be discussions – many discussions – on the direction of engineering their robot. And all the while, they’ll be having one of the best times of their lives.
To do all of this, Falkons must raise funds to support the team. Anyone who would like information, to donate or just to follow the team’s progress can visit www.cvrobots.com.
The Falkons will be joined in the competition by other teams in the area from Clark Magnet High and La Cañada High schools.