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High Drama With Robots: Team 501’s Weekend At FIRST

The BAE Systems Granite State Regional FIRST Robotics Competition were this past weekend and the Dyn sponsored Team 501 / Power Knights were there in full force.

If you are not familiar with FIRST, it is an international program that promotes engineering and technology to youth through the building of robots, put to the test by means of competition. Along the way, community mentors will teach the critical skills for success needed to power their robots (programming, engineering, design, even how to use a screwdriver) while focusing on the development of key life skills including communication, cooperation, and leadership.

Dyn - Team 501Every year, FIRST presents teams with a new challenge that they will need to rise above to succeed. This year’s challenge — Rebound Rumble — is a fun & fast-paced game that was fantastic to design for and play in.

Rebound Rumble is a take on traditional basketball : four hoops arranged with different point values of three points on top, two on the middle baskets and one point on the bottom baskets. Collaborations of three individual teams called ‘Alliances’ are formed to work together and compete against other alliances in order to advance through the rounds.

Alliances are looking to score points during either a 15-second autonomous mode (baskets are worth regular value plus three points) or the teleoperated (human driven) mode. Additionally, three bridges span the center court line which are worth extra points if teams can balance one r more robots on them.

With each robot worth 10 points (more in the Elimination matches) this can be a crucial tactic in winning the match. Teams can defend the opposing alliance as long as they’re not touching the key like in basketball or as long as they don’t pin for more than 10 seconds.

Thursday morning, we loaded up the trucks and headed over to Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena in the middle of a raging snowstorm. As always, there was at least one high school student from another far-away team wearing shorts not expecting the weather.

Overcoming A Challenge

During our robot’s initial inspection, we faced an unexpected challenge: we had misinterpreted the meaning of a rule. Thankfully, we were not alone in this as a large number of teams needed to rebuild their robot bumpers in order to compete. As quoted, the rule state the plywood and foam pool noodle-made bumpers needed to be eight inches long. They were, but the Q&A on the rules (sometimes used as canon) specified that it had to be the backing/solid part of the bumpers that were at least eight inches long, not the entire bumper with noodle hanging off.

This bumper modification required us to modify our bridge lowering device. A quick trip to the onsite machine shop and we were ready to go, but we quickly discovered it was not going to be as easy as we’d expected. The ramp manipulators had to be cut down drastically in order to accommodate the new bumpers, causing our ramp’s performance to be suboptimal. The team continued to work on things, but it was not until Saturday morning that everything was fully armed and operational.

We had just three matches left to show everyone what were capable of…and that’s exactly what we did. We scored baskets and balanced on bridges. While we ranked 37 out of 50 teams going into Saturday morning, our performance was good enough to prove to everyone that we could do it and allowed us to get picked by the third ranked team to be a part of their alliance.

The slates were wiped clean, the battle was on and we were ready to go.

The Finals

Dyn FIRST - RobotsFor an alliance to advance to the next round in the finals, they must win two matches. The Power Knights won our first match of the quarter finals 21-10, but the second match came down to the final seconds. A ball was wedged under the bridge and try as we might, we couldn’t seem to lower it enough to drive on. With seconds left, our alliance partner rammed the bridge from the other side, causing it to touch the ground and allowing us to drive onto it.

We knew there would not be time for adjustments qne would have to balance perfectly. With two seconds left, we all held our breath as the robot drove to the center of the bridge and stopped. The bridge rocked and then balanced just as time ran out. We’d made it! We were going to the semifinals! Unfortunately, they were not as kind.

We had lost the first match, so we had to win the next. Again, in true FIRST fashion, it came down to the final seconds. Going for a double balance, two robots on one bridge, we almost had it. Our alliance partner slid off the edge of the bridge and frantically we all tried to rebalance, but time had run out.

Regionals had come to a close with our alliance tied for third place. The team did not have a single penalty during the entirety of Regionals, an incredible feat in FIRST for anyone. Additionally, The Power Knights had won the Website Award on Friday, the Judges Award Saturday and were a finalist for the Engineering Inspiration Award.

We’ve had several pictures and articles in the newspaper this year and one of our students was even on local ABC affiliate WMUR-9. We are all so proud of our students, but more importantly, they are proud of themselves. With one competition left this season (Washington, D.C. at the end of March), the Power Knights have a lot more hustle in them.

Why FIRST Matters To Us

There is a shortage of talented engineers, scientists, mathematicians and technologists in this country. FIRST strives to encourage young people to explore these fields, while having fun and learning a ton. These students are going to be the ones who cure AIDS, who cure cancer, who come up with the greatest new routing protocol, who come up with a way to fight a massive DDoS and who decide how the world will run in the next few decades.

It’s of vital interest for a technology company to sew the seeds for future growth in young minds to ensure a healthy future for industry and the world. Dyn gets it: we’re supporting a local school (which a large number of our employees call their alma mater) and cultivating talent and growth in our local economy and in the world.

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