By Joanna Manning.
On the eve of the interleague robotics championship, members of the Wright Angles robotics team were working late into the night in the Charles Wright Academy Innovation Lab. After going undefeated in their first ten matches of the season, the team was entering the contest as the number one seed, and they were eager to maintain their ranking. They had put in more than forty hours of work over the winter break, and now, at the 11th hour, they were still tweaking their design.
In a somewhat unorthodox move, the team had decided to scrap their robot entirely after the last competition of the regular season rather than refine their existing design. When pressed about this decision, one of the team members laughed. “Hindsight’s 20/20, right?”
Junior Ted Corddry stepped in to explain: “We’re all, to a certain extent, perfectionists. We just want our robot to be as good as it possibly can be.”
The last-minute tinkering was a gamble that, while not without its challenges, paid off in the end, resulting not only in a first-place finish but also a Washington State record for point totals and a spot in the State Championship, which will take place Sunday, January 26 th at the ShoWare Center in Kent.
Teams earn points based on the complexity of the tasks their robot can complete. Every year, the robotics governing body, FIRST, issues a new challenge and a new set of point distributions. The team must then evaluate what’s worth engineering to achieve the most points. This year, teams were challenged to build robots that could move and stack yellow interlocking bricks that resemble large Legos. Teams earn minimal points for shuttling blocks over a line and more points for stacking the blocks.
“For our first competition our robot could shuttle very quickly, but we didn’t have a lift mechanism,” Innovation and Design Labs Director and robotics team leader Joe Romano said. “We were able to win all our own matches just because we could bring blocks over the line. Then we got our lift mechanism and we were able to stack four blocks high. Eventually, we were able to drop a capstone on top of the stack to score even more points.”
A typical robotics competition follows an alliance format, wherein teams are paired together randomly during the early qualification rounds but then choose strategic alliances for the final rounds of the competition. Teams will look for robots from other teams that will complement their own robot’s abilities.
Mr. Romano said, “It’s a really exciting scoring process where you have to work with another team for three minutes even though you’re competing against them. We’ve looked at certain elements from other teams’ robots and thought, ‘Oh we need that on our robot!’ So [competition] is a model where we can learn and share together.”
Encouraging students to share their knowledge and to think like engineers is at the heart of FIRST’s philosophy. Each team must keep an engineering notebook that documents their process in building their robot, and awards are given to teams whose notebooks can demonstrate their engineering skills.
“We’re building a team culture where we’re not just building a robot, we’re engineering a robot,” Mr. Romano said.
More than that, the team is trying to build a culture of technology and engineering throughout the community. Several robotics team members have launched a Lego robotics club in the lower school, and others have expressed an interest in building an automated hydroponic gardening system for the school’s greenhouse.
For now, though, the team is laser focused on preparing for the upcoming championship, and they are all optimistic about their chances to win.
“It’s going to be an incredible learning opportunity for students,” Mr. Romano said.
The Wright Angles placed first at the interleague championships and will compete at state January 26th.
We’re building a team culture where we’re not just building a robot, we’re engineering a robot.