By Mary O’KEEFE
Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet high schools advanced to the semi-finals of the FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology – Regional Competition in Long Beach over the weekend.
Clark and CVHS, along with La Cañada and St. Francis high schools, all traveled to the Long Beach Arena with robots in tow to join a group of 66 teams on the competitive field. Set up began on Thursday, and competition took place on Friday and Saturday. The teams competed in alliances of three teams each. At the end of each match, the teams are ranked. This ranking changes over the two days of competition.
CVHS Falkons team and Clark’s Circuit Breakers were chosen as part of the semi-finals alliances. Clark was knocked out in early rounds and CVHS made it to the tie-breaker round just before finals. Their alliance ended in third place.
“The team did great this year by focusing their bot design on a defensive, balancing bot,” said CVHS robotics lead mentor and engineering teacher Greg Neat. “It was clear that other teams noticed our decision, given that the second seeded team chose for this unique capability. It was sweet when we delivered in the elimination matches.”
Clark won two awards on Saturday, the Pit Safety Award and the Motorola Quality Award. The team ended with a ranking of 11 out of 66 teams.
The Motorola Quality Award celebrates robustness in machine design and function.
“We are super excited,” said David Black, lead mentor for Clark’s team. “We had a good feeling about it from the beginning. This was the award we were really trying for.”
Each year FIRST challenges high school students to a specifically designed game for which they build a robot for competition. This year the game was basketball and, as only FIRST can do, had a twist that included having the robot balance on a wobbly bridge. Extra points were given for working with the other teams in what is called “gracious professionalism.”
Teams had six weeks to design, build and test their robots following strict guidelines laid out by FIRST officials. All teams that compete in FIRST received their instructions at the same time in mid-December 2011, then hit the ground running with design concepts and building. On Feb. 21, building was finished and the robots were then “bagged and tagged” in a giant plastic bag until March 15 when those competing in Long Beach took their robots out of the plastic and began preparing for the game.
This is a little unusual from years past. Federal Express used to pick up the robot on an appointed date and transport it to whatever region the team was competing in. But with the current economy, funds were limited.
“[We] couldn’t continue to ship,” said David Berggren, Southern California Regional director of FIRST.
Teams had been asked to help with the costs of the shipping but still the expense was growing. The “bag and tag” policy had rules that were to be followed, however they could be easy to skirt.
“This relies on the honor system of the teams,” Berggren said.
That honor system is what FIRST calls “gracious professionalism,” a guideline for teams in how to conduct themselves with honor in a very competitive field.
FIRST’s founder is Dean Kamen, an inventor, physicist and entrepreneur. He was the inventor of several medical devices, including a portable dialysis machine, and is the inventor of the Segway Human Transporter.
“Twenty-one years ago [Kamen] saw that the country was falling behind in science and math. He wanted to come up with something that would make [these subjects cool]. He thought about what was popular – movies, sports, rock stars. … He went with a sport,” Berggren said.
Add some loud rock and roll, some very creative team logos and costumes. This bring in students from all walks of life, not just math and science nerds but those who have a mind for business, volunteerism, creativity or who just like to build, and you have FIRST.
On Thursday, the teams brought their robots to the arena, set up team tents where repairs could be made and met with other teams to begin to build alliances.
Each team works with an alliance comprised of three teams and no one knows who will be partnered until the semi-finals, when top teams get to pick their alliance. This inspires networking throughout the three-day event.
There were 18 new teams competing at the Long Beach Arena. St. Francis High School in La Cañada was one of the new teams.
“It is tough competition, but it is really cool,” said Carl Demolder, a junior at St. Francis.
The team had competed in a few matches by mid morning on Friday and had done okay, but hadn’t won their matches.
Demolder said they were learning from other teams and from being on the field. Being the first time at the competition, he didn’t know what to expect.
“We see that a lot of teams have our same base model,” he said.
Seeing that made the St. Francis team feel that they were on the right track.
Demolder said the team would take what they learned from the competition and apply it to next year’s contest.
“We’ll be back next year,” he said.
La Cañada got off to a rough start with mechanical difficulties that set them back in the opening matches with losses that they never recovered from.