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Dos Pueblos’ Penguinbot VI Wins Quality Award at Robotics Regional

San Diego competition proves fierce for Team 1717

Members of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Robotics Team 1717 continued their winning streak Saturday and Sunday at the FIRST Robotics Regional Competition in San Diego.

The morning was tense with two hard losses in the final qualifying rounds. In the last match, they suffered an unusual “communication” failure when the drivers were not able to get the Penguinbot to move an inch after the autonomous mode. But the fifth-ranked team selected Team 1717 as its alliance partner. So they progressed to the finals with rookie Team 3477 and San Diego natives 2102.

Sixty teams from all over the United States were in competition for an invitation to the FIRST Robotics Nationals in St. Louis, Mo., April 27-30.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 that aims to encourage student interest in scientific and technical fields. Each year, teams of students have six weeks to design and manufacture a robot to compete in an international competition held by FIRST.

There are now more than 2,200 teams worldwide. There are numerous regional competitions in the next few weeks, all of which will send their champions to St. Louis in April.

“Friday morning we had to scramble to get our robot shipshape and ready to go for its first qualifying match,” Team 1717 member Patrick Holmes said.

The team stood in eager anticipation as the robot rolled onto the field, unsure of what to expect. But once the gears started whirring and the robot started placing inner tubes, the team went wild.

“Making it into the finals would be amazing,” he said.

This year’s game is called LOGO MOTION, unique from any prior game. LOGO MOTION is played by two competing alliances on a flat 27-foot-by-54-foot field. The game involves having the larger, main robots picking up large inflated game pieces (think geometric inner tubes including a triangle, square, circle — the components of the FIRST Robotics logo) and putting them on pegs on a wall. This year’s Penguinbot VI, which is actually two robots, has a single retractable arm with two “jaws” that off-field student drivers control to pick up the inflated game pieces.

The arm then can be extend up to 10 feet high to place the inflated items on pegs. Random placements earn a few points. Placement in the right order to re-create the FIRST logo earns the most points. The higher the teams hang their game pieces on their scoring grid, the more points their alliance receives. If teams assemble the logo pieces on their scoring grids to form the FIRST logo (triangle, circle, square in a horizontal row in that order), the points for the entire row are doubled.

The last few seconds of the match is really different than any prior game; a second minibot is deployed to climb up a pole. Six robots are in play in each match, and there are only four poles. The first bot to the top gets major bonus points. Only a few high-performance robots even had or attempted to deploy a mini robot. DP’s minibot was deployed successfully several times.

The programming team worked throughout the past week, refining the code that allows them to drive the robot. They finished the code for the initial 15-second autonomous mode just the night before, and successfully tested it for the first time the morning of the competition.

The first match in the quarterfinals was all Team 1717, scoring almost all the points for Blue Alliance, scoring an “Uber” tube in the autonomous mode (using the new code), placing two complete rows of game piece logos and successfully deploying their mini bot for bonus points, winning 85-52.

“There’s nothing quite like that moment after the first match,” Holmes said. “To finally see what we’d devoted eight weeks of our life working on the competition field was something purely amazing.”

The second quarterfinal match was smooth, and once again all Team 1717 and the Blue Alliance. The score was 86-32, which advanced Team 1717 to the semifinals.

With many good teams still in the running for the title, the excitement and nervousness in Team 1717’s fan section was almost tangible. Nothing could stop the students from going down and cheering on their alliance, joining in chants and starting some for fellow alliance members. In the semifinals, Team 1717 had to compete against an alliance of excellent robots.

“254 and 987 are some of the best teams, but it’s not over until it’s over,” Team 1717 member Noah Connally said.

The first match in the semifinals was a tight one with a loss on points, but an opposing robot earned a red card, disqualifying them. So the final score was 55-0 for the 1717 Alliance The second match was a high, fast-scoring match —for the opponent. DP’s minibot was the first up the pole, but not enough to overcome the rapid-fire scoring during the match. Team 1717 lost 112-68.

So it came down to a tiebreaker to proceed to the finals. In the third match, Team 1717 lost 131-76. The alliance that beat them went on to win their next two matches in the finals to win first place.

“The most exciting thing to see at this competition is the diversity of the robots,” Team 1717 member Aislinn Dunne said. “Every team has a different design with unique strengths and sets of problems.”

The D’Penguineers will be in Long Beach at the next regional in two weeks in hopes of securing an invitation to the nationals in St. Louis.

During the awards ceremony, their hard work was rewarded for the second year in a row by the judges with the Motorola Quality Award, given to teams with the best designed robot and highest form, fit and function. This award recognizes the best robot on its own merit, regardless of the results. Due to how they were matched up for the finals, their superior quality had not had a great chance to shine.

Luke Seale, an alumnus of Team 1717 who graduated in 2009 and is featured in the newly released book The New Cool, about Team 1717, was back from Princeton University for spring break. He was happy to be on hand and proud to see his team win this prestigious award.

In addition to all the matches, Team 1717 also conducted community outreach in San Diego, according to member Connie Phung. Hoping to inspire younger students to join the FIRST Robotics program when they reach high school, members of the team gave a presentation to sixth-graders at Memorial Prep Middle School on Thursday to introduce them to FIRST Robotics. Those members then spent part of Friday morning giving tours to the 130 students around the Pit and competition area. Smiles were on the faces of both the sixth-graders as well as the competing teams as the spirit of FIRST was spread into the local community.

Click here to watch archived competitions online.

— Patrick Holmes, Noah Connally, Megha Manjunath, Aislinn Dunne and Connie Phung are seniors in the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

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