Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet high schools travel to Long Beach to strut their robotic selves.
By Brandon HENSLEY
They came to Long Beach for the regional robotics competition dressed in black capes with their names in blue font. They came with hair dyed blue. They came with high hopes and unbridled enthusiasm.
They came … in 32nd out of 65 schools.
Not half bad, right?
It may not have been the finish Team 589 from Crescenta Valley High School Falkon Robotics was looking for, but then again, how many robots have you built that can fling Frisbees and climb structures?
“We were able to show off what our robot could do in every match, regardless of the outcome, and I think that’s the best we could ask for,” said Falkon robot captain Isabel Martos-Repath.
The multiple-day regional competition, held at the Long Beach Convention Center last weekend, annually gives schools the chance to show off their mechanical and teamwork skills. The event is sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and the events are held internationally every spring. The winners go to the finals, which will be held in St. Louis from April 24 through 27.
The rules of the competition change every year. This time the object of the game was to get points by having the robots shoot discs into three different cages, as well as climbing several levels up a pyramid structure. There was also the option of playing defense against other bots.
For the Falkons (yes, that’s how they spell it), junior Ben Campos said their robot, named Stephanie, was designed to play more defense. He also said most robots weren’t expected to climb several levels because that would require all of the school’s time and energy dedicated into that area.
“A lot of the teams around here are focused on climbing the lower tower and then shooting,” Campos said. “There are a lot of really impressive robots here.”
Schools can enter multiple regionals – the Falkons competed in San Diego several weeks ago, nabbing sixth place out of 59 – but it takes a ton of work, not to mention money, and teams are not given much time.
The rules of the game are announced in January, and teams have six weeks to build and program the robot. At the competition, schools can work on the bot in a pit area, but once the event is over, they pack it up and can’t touch it again.
CV spent over $4,000 to go to San Diego and Long Beach. Both the Falkons and Clark Magnet High’s team, the Circuit Breakers, have business teams that recruit sponsors- CV bussiness captain Heather Abrams heads the Falkons- to pay for the building of the bot, as well as the trips. Sponsors for CV include DreamWorks Animation, JPL and NASA.
It costs FIRST about $200,000 a year to organize the events, said Stephen Petty. He and his wife Jill work with FIRST and the Roddenberry Foundation to raise the money needed. The Roddenberry Foundation was created several years ago in memory of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and is committed to the betterment of education, medicine and the environment.
Petty said the foundation has given FIRST a $125,000 grant for two years, and that some of the money will go toward helping schools pay for the trips to St. Louis.
“Some of these teachers have paid out of their pocket,” said Petty. “When we come in with extra money for them, we’re really paying the teacher back for what they’ve put out.”
Petty said robotics can have a specific impact on people’s lives. In Long Beach, a father came up to him and said his son as a freshman was close to being expelled from his school. Now as senior in robotics, he’s preparing for college.
Jill said she loves to be a part of the excitement in the pit area.
“That’s what it’s all about – just talking to the students, because they’re so amazing,” she said. “They really are having fun. It’s hard work, and challenging. But it’s fun.”
It’s been a rewarding couple of years for Clark’s Circuit Breakers. They placed in the semifinals in Long Beach, and will compete in another regional this week. Their success can be linked to the recent creation of a new state of the art engineering lab on campus.
“The idea is to create a space where any idea the students dream up, they can manufacture,” said David Black, former Clark student and now robotics and engineering teacher at the school. “We have maybe 150 students in our engineering program, and you never know when one of those kids can be the next big entrepreneur.”
The lab used to be an empty building. It was a woodshop when Clark was a junior high school decades ago, and JPL used it as offices in the 1990s. Now it’s a point of pride for the Circuit Breakers.
“Our team has stepped it up, not just a notch, but five notches,” said Black.
Although team success wasn’t in order for the Falkons last week, they received good news during the competition when mentor Mark Abrams received the L.A. Volunteer of the Year award for his 13 years of service to FIRST. Abrams is the head judge at L.A. in addition to volunteering at San Diego and in St. Louis.
Junior Martos-Repath was announced as a finalist for the Dean’s List Award, which is given to students who exemplify the principals of FIRST and make outstanding contributions to their team.
Martos-Repath said she was shocked when her name was called, and credited the almost 60 members of the Falkons for being named as finalist.
“They’ve given me so much and I hope I’ve been able to at least give back some to say thank you for everything they’ve been able to do for me,” she said.
The Dean’s List winners will receive credit toward their team’s registration fee, but just being a finalist is something Martos-Repath can put on her college application. She is still debating on whether to fly to St. Louis for the ceremony, but said going would complete a personal mission.
“It’s been a dream of mine to go since I was a freshman,” she said. “At the end of my freshman year I said, ‘I would like to go, one day, if I qualify or not.’ Now it seems kind of like a good time.”
A Whale of an Idea
If the Falkons can’t conquer the arena floor in Long Beach, they can try their hand in outer space … with a robot, on top of a whale … shooting cardboard … with lasers.
Falkon members have created a video game called Riders of the WHALE, when players can take control of one of four characters and blast through cardboard boxes in space. It’s a retro-looking game, inspired by Galaga, said main creator Justin Park.
“In robotics class, a lot of stuff we do is made from cardboard,” said Park. “So we thought, ‘Let’s shoot cardboard.’ It’s not violent. It kind of pokes fun at robotics.”
Park said he made the game through the website arcade.gamesalad.com. Falkon member Max Burton is a playable character, and he comes with a robot costume, the same one he consistently wore at Long Beach.
The game uploaded on March 20, and Park said it has gotten a lot of buzz.
“I’m actually amazed at how well it’s taken off,” he said.
Visit CV online at cvrobots.com and Clark at team696.org.