This was the night they had been working towards for so long. On January 21, 2017, the local robotics team the N.E.R.D.S, or Novice Engineers Robotics Design Society, were finally ready to complete. They had worked on idea after idea to complete this year’s challenge. In the robotics challenge of the year, ways to score points, and ways to try and beat opponents were simple to learn but difficult to master. You could score by completing the three stages of each round. Round one is called “autonomous.” This is where the robot any team has built completes point scoring tasks like identifying and claiming beacons without driver control. It runs entirely on its own. The next stage, after this thirty second period, is called “teleop,” or driver control. This is a two minute period where drivers control the robots to either attempt to fire point scoring balls into hoops in the center arena, push them up ramps, or press buttons and claim beacons. You can claim an enemy beacon, so some battles over them are inevitable. After this, the final stage, or end game begins. It is a thirty second period where you can lift large exercise balls up and into the hoops for big points. Teams could build robots for any one of these tasks, and did not have to do all of them. Building a robot to do all the tasks available is difficult, so the N.E.R.D.S robot had to specialize in a few tasks, rather than all.
The team built their robot mainly around lifting the exercise ball the four feet needed into the air and having a good autonomous score. As a button pusher, a foam football was cut in two and mounted on the robots’s front. It worked surprisingly well, and accomplished the task of claiming beacons better than most of the fancier instruments used for this job. Not until very close to the challenge was the autonomous program finished. This did not leave time to build a ball launcher, so that was left out of the design.
Finally, after staying overnight in a hotel, the team arrived at the robotics challenge of the year, the Blue Valley CAPS Qualifying Tournament. There were to be twenty-nine matches this day, including the final four devoted to the championship. In the championship, the top four teams would each choose three other teams to join them, and fight for the title of champion. So, in the time before rounds, team members were sent out to assess other team’s strengths and weaknesses to see if, in the event of making it to the championship, the team would be a good partner.
Our team kicked off in round four, and dominated it. The autonomous worked perfectly, scoring seventy points right off the bat. The team we were partnered with even had a ball shooter, so this gap in our strategy was filled. In the end, after even successfully lifting the exercise ball, the N.E.R.D.S scored over one hundred and fifty points. After this match, a problem developed. The autonomous program only worked well on the red side of the field. Otherwise, it turned the wrong direction. This, along with a penalty on our teammate, set us back, all the way to twelfth place. We participated in five rounds before the championship, and it became clear that the only way for the team to advance was to be chosen to be a part of the championship alliance.
Tthe team talked with the leading team, team 3409, The Astromechs. We soon saw that all of their weaknesses were our strengths, and all of their strengths were our weaknesses. This, combined with a guarantee of being on the red side for our autonomous to work, made the Astromechs decide on the N.E.R.D.S to be their first choice as a teammate, along with the equally impressive team the Tesla’s Knights. However, the very first match, the team lost. Due to a failed modem, our autonomous program did not work. This was not the end, because each round was a two out of three contest. While our team fixed the robot, The Tesla’s Knights and Astromechs secured a win, so all was not lost. The N.E.R.D.S team helped to win the third semifinal match, leading all three teams to the finals. The first match began with The N.E.R.D.S and Astromechs against the opposing finalist alliance. After a long and hard beacon battle, ending with the N.E.R.D.S dunking the exercise ball, the first match was won. The team was one win away from their goal. Unfortunately, the Astromech’s robot malfunctioned. Someone needed to go in with the Tesla’s Knights to try and secure the win. This was the moment the N.E.R.D.S had been waiting for. The team stepped in, and took on the match. It was a tough battle. Both teams autonomous routines worked perfectly, and the beacon battle was nearly equal. What would determine the final outcome was whether or not the team could make the hoop with the exercise ball. The other teams, becoming desperate as the team slowly brought the exercise ball to the hoop, even resorted to trying to knock the ball out of our grip. It was a futile move, for in the end, the final ball was made, and the N.E.R.D.S won the championship!
Unfortunately, only the captain team of the winning alliance, the Astromechs, were able to advance to the state competition to be held in Rolla in March. At the awards ceremony afterwards, the team won the honors of third place in the Innovate Award, an award given to the most innovative teams, second place in the Think Award, an award given to teams who came up with the best solutions to the challenge, was rated as the third model team, and of course, was given a trophy for winning the championship side by side with the Tesla’s Knights and Astromechs. The team enjoyed, and learned much from this year’s First Tech robotics Challenge. You can now see latest developments in their journey at their website, www.team9960.org. The team was very proud to compete this year, and hopes to continue learning and doing so.
Here is a video of our first match, earning 150 points: