The Scorpion Robotics team, from Desert High School, is preparing for the Los Angeles FIRST Tech Challenge Regional Championship Tournament.
FIRST stands for ëFor Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
The team, which has 11 members, was formed in August at the start of the school year. Since that time, they have worked to build and improve their robot, Scoop Da Whoop.
Though the batteries and motors are the same for all of the competitors, Scoop is made unique because of his specific parts and design. Scoop for instance, has a unique drive train. Normally, a robot is constructed with wheels on either side that allow it move forward and backwards as well as rotate.
Scoop, however, has one wheel on each of its four sides allowing the robot to move left to right, in addition to the standard movements.
The unique design is what caught the attention of the judges at the Claremont FTC Qualifying Tournament, where they were awarded the Rockwell Collins Innovative Award. The team also took home the second place Inspire Award, which requires a team to score well in every award category.
According to Andrew Whitten, 416th Flight Test Squadron engineer and Scorpion Robotics coach, the “competitions are fun, but really just an ends to a means.” He added that the program allows students to be in contact with professionals in technical fields.
“The point is to have mentor-type relationships,” said Whitten. “It’s being able to have contacts where they can ask questions about technical things.”
A typical tournament starts with a series of qualifying matches where teams are randomly assigned to compete. Each match has four robots and four teams playing in a 12-foot by 12-foot playing field. Every two teams form a partnership for the competition called an alliance. At the end of the qualifying rounds, the results are compiled and used to determine each teams’ rank.
According to Whitten, a good team will have a well-built robot, a solid strategy and skilled drivers.
In the afternoon, the first four seeds are made team captains and choose their alliances. Then it’s time for the elimination rounds. Each round is two and a half minutes long, with the first 30 seconds in autonomous mode. To score points, the team must perform a†series of tasks with the robot, such as moving objects, raising a flag or following a specific navigation pattern.
In addition to their performance on the playing field, the judges analyze how well the team did on their robot, how much thought was put into the design and how much the kids were learning. During the interview portion of the event, the judges will look at the teams Engineering notebook and ask questions about their “journey.”
Whitten noted that in their first competition, the Scorpions took first place and in their most recent competition, their alliance came in second place making them finalists.
“Our goal this year was just to do well in the qualification tournaments. We signed up for two qualification tournaments, hoping that things would go our way and we’d get a bid to go to the regionals and we got two,” said Col. Robby Weaver, 412th Maintenance Group commander and head coach of the DHS Scorpions Robotics Team.
“The construction of the robot has been all the team. The coaches don’t dictate how the robot looks at all. We’re here to answer questions, explain physics and to teach programming,” said Weaver.
He explained that each year, the students are provided with a parts kit and rule book which explains that year’s “game.” The game is the set of objectives that the robot should be able to accomplish.
“That’s what we’ve been practicing. We always take at least one hour out of our practice to work with our drivers, balancing, speed, the game elements in a sense,” said Team member, Anthony Quinnert, grade 10. “In our past two qualifying matches, we’ve proven to be very good at that and now, what we’re doing is refining our skills and getting a lot smoother. We’re learning a lot from each match, how to organize our wires and the physics of our robot.”
The game stays the same for the entire competitive season. A build guide gives the students instructions on how to build a practice game arena for the year’s game.
Team captain, Geoffrey Holmes, grade 12, said that through the robotics team he learned about physics, coding and carpentry.
“It’s important because nowadays in school there are not a lot of extra circulars that introduce programming and robotics into the curriculum,” said Holmes. “If there were programs like this in every school, where it introduces electronics, robotics and coding to students, it would influence a lot of kids to major in that career because they like it.”
Holmes recalled their first attempt at building the robot as sort of “rustic” with a lot of tape and glue. Now the robot contains machine-made parts made from titanium alloy and aluminum.
Co-captain, Larson LeDuc, grade 11, added that the robot could still use improvement in the areas of reaction times and some aspects of the hardware.
“It’s always fun to build something and see it succeed,” said LeDuc. “It’s the feeling of accomplishment. It’s kind of like a child, because you build it and then you’re going to watch it go out there and succeed.”
According to Whitten, the overarching theme of the challenge is gracious professionalism.
“It’s about beating them at their best. What we found in our first tournament is that we had forgotten to pack an extra battery and an opposing alliance lent us a battery.
They wanted to beat us, but they wanted to beat us on an even playing field. That is a very good example of gracious professionalism,” said Whitten. ‘Once you get to the match, they will do everything to try and beat you, but they don’t want to beat you just because you left a spare battery at home.”
The MUROC School District and the 412th Test Wing signed an Education Partnership Agreement in Nov. 2012 that allowed for the partnering of the two in promoting STEM hands-on learning and future STEM career paths. Additionally, the National Defense Education Program funding has helped to provide some of the necessary equipment and robotics parts needed for the team.
According to Weaver, their biggest concern for the team is “continuity.”
“When some of the military members go, we need to keep that energy going next year, so this team stays a permanent part of the process. I retire this year, my command assignment is up so we really want to keep the positive energy going,” said Weaver.
“We do intend to have a program next year and we are hoping to get both team members and coaches involved with the program.”
He added that they would also like to see some girls join the, currently all-male, team next year.
Quinnert summed it up, “Our expectations earlier were just to not get last place, but now, it’s just to win.”