Six weeks. That’s how long each team at the Buckeye Regional FIRST Robotics Competition had to design, build and learn to use a basketball shooting robot.
The robotics competition at the Wolstein Center brought 60 teams from from Canada and nearby states including Lorain County students from Avon, Avon Lake, Lorain and Amherst high schools.
Teams purchased robot kits with the basic mechanical parts but all designing, building and programming had to be done by students in the alloted time span.
Avon Lake’s “Shorebots” team placed in the 14th seed by mid-day, but did not get selected for the finals.
“It’s been incredible,” said Michael Foley, 18, of the Shorebots. “It’s been a lot of work.”
Amherst’s “Comets Unleashed” and Lorain’s “Titaniums” placed near the middle of the ranking, both teams said.
Members from Avon’s “kontrol freaks” could not be reached for comment.
After the six week preparation period, robots had to be sealed in plastic and could not be touched until teams reached the three-day competition on Thursday.
“We were in the pit constantly modifying, constantly tweaking,” said Spyridon Gulgas, of the Titaniums.
Inside the Wolstein Center, a miniature basketball court was erected. Six robots, controlled by two “alliances” of three high school teams, attempted to scoop up basketballs and launch them in to one of four baskets set up on each side of the court. The crowd roared as points were racked up for scoring baskets or balancing on one of the three see-saw bridges in the center of the court.
Each match lasts 2 minutes and 15 seconds with three stages. First, the robot acts autonomously for 15 seconds to score baskets. Then a driver takes the reigns of the machine, navigating throughout the court. For the last 30 seconds, bridges become bonus point generators with a successful balance awarding extra points.
“It is a lot of pressure for just two minutes,” said Jesse Haefka, of the Titaniums, who controlled the team’s robot with Stephen Christo.
While the event is called a competition, cooperation is a huge part of the equation. Teams are paired with other teams they’ve typically never met in alliances and they have to work together to win.
“I think half the success of this is just team communication,” said Mike Luca, of the Shorebots.
Teams aren’t just trying to win at the basketball matches, they are also marketing themselves for alliances and scouting for talent, said Comets Unleashed leader Matthew Fisher.
The Comets Unleash model their club after a full-fledged business and the alliance aspect mirrors a future of working with unfamiliar people and corporations, Fisher said.
The top 8 teams are able to choose the two teams that will be part of their alliance in the final round. As the matches took place, scouts watched and built lists of possible allies.
“For the most part, none of these teams know each other,” Fisher said.
The Comets Unleashed wore berets to distinguish themselves from other teams, said Michael Holly, co-leader of Comets Unleashed.
Even the basketball matches call for competitors to work together. One of the balancing bridges in the middle only awards points if both of the competing alliances work together to balance on it, Holly said.
The top two alliances from the regional finals will move to a national competition from April 26-28 in St. Louis.
None of the Lorain County teams were chosen during the selection period.
The competition changes every year to force the robotics clubs to adapt and to keep teams from planning ahead of time, Holly said.
“What we’re doing this year, we won’t be doing next year,” he said. “They design it that way so you really have to start from scatch each year.”
Bill Bogan, Lorain High pre-engineering teacher and coach for the Titaniums, said his proudest moment was when his team troubleshooted and fixed a issues on Thursday without his help. The event acts as a powerful learning experience, allowing hand-ons experience and requiring quick solutions to problems as they arise, he said.
“That’s what it is all about,” he said.