Adventures in Robotics

Tomas headed down to New Hampshire over the weekend to participate in a robotics tournament. He’d done this last year, but somehow I ended up having no clue what it was he was doing. This year, he sent me a link so I could stream the event on Twitch, and that made a huge difference.

For the uninitiated, the goal of a robotics competition is to build a robot designed to do certain tasks. The league tells everyone what the tasks are ahead of time, and then you get to work designing a bot that will do whatever you need it to. This year, the goal is to gather up yellow nerf balls and shoot them through various goals, then go and grab onto a pole and lift itself up in tandem with the other robots on its team.

Does that not make sense? Here’s a video:

All the teams get the info on the season challenges at the same time, and then there are rules as to when you can work on the robot. Make more sense?

Thursday was a snow day, so Tomas headed over to school before they were leaving for the event, and he spent hours working with his team on their bot. They drove down to NH that evening and spent more time working on it that night. Going into the competition, they were pretty worried, since their still hadn’t tested the bot out and weren’t even sure if it would be able to do anything. They still didn’t have a working arm (to lift the robot off the ground at the end), and they didn’t have a working turret (to fire the nerf balls.) Of course, the other teams were also under the same time restrictions, so it was likely many of them were having issues as well.

Once things got underway, I actually found the whole thing a ton of fun to watch. It was great to see the many different approaches different teams had taken to solving the same problem. 40 teams had shown up, and they were randomly put into trios for a series of 80 rounds of competition, with each round pitting two trios against each other. Some of the robots were clearly further along in design than others, but it was fun to see how different teams compensated for their flaws. Tomas’s was particularly good on defense. Since their shooting turret wasn’t working, they would go and interfere with the other teams’ ability to shoot the balls, and they did a great job with it.

After the 80 rounds are over, the top 8 teams get to select alliances. They invite lesser-ranked teams to join them in the quarterfinals. Tomas’s team was literally the last one selected, but that meant he was on the alliance that featured the first place team. By then, they had fixed their arm and were able to lift themselves off the ground, and they’d perfected their defense. Things were really looking up.

Sadly it wasn’t meant to be, however. All that defense had taken a toll on their bot, as they’d been repeatedly slamming it into opponents for two days straight. It shot a gear loose, and then the bot quickly self destructed to the point that it couldn’t move, which spelled doom for their alliance.

Still, it was a lot of fun to watch, and I look forward to hearing about upgrades they’re making for their robot in preparation for their next competition in a few weeks.

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