When I tell people that I am a part of the Panther Robotics Team, the first response I get is, without fail, "So like...battlebots?" I then go on to explain that competitions are a little more complicated than that. Robots do not simply fight to the death, instead they must race to perform tasks that are associated with a points system. The strategy used by teams depends on the type of game being played. Yesterday the 2020 game was released. Take a look!
To make things a little simpler, this years game consists of shooting power cells, spinning a control panel, and lifting off the ground from the field generator that is located in the center of the field. Each round is a total of 2 minutes 30 seconds and is separated into three different stages. The first stage is a 15 second autonomous period where robots must be programed to complete tasks without human drivers. In this phase, nine points will be scored to move on. During the second stage, twenty power cells must be scored and the control panel spun from three to five times. Once phase three is unlocked, twenty more power cells will be scored and a color is assigned to each team. Robots will then rotate the control panel to the correct color to finish off this stage of the game. In the last thirty seconds, robots will race to hang onto the shield generator and balance out to receive a maximum of 90 points.
Very early last Saturday morning, the Panther Robotics team gathered at Bonney Lake High School to eat breakfast and watch the kick-off live. We enjoyed pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage all provided by our helpful and supportive parents. After breakfast, the team and their guests all gathered to view the live kick off which revealed a game that every member "ooooed" and "aaaaaahed" at. Appearances from Mark Hamill along with the excitement of robots hanging off the ground had the team intrigued with every aspect of this year's game.
Once the manual was unlocked, team members thoroughly read through the 133 pages of meticulous rules and guidelines. When everyone had a clear understanding of the game, strategy was discussed and brainstormed by the whole team. We decided to strive for a bot that can perform all three of the main tasks efficiently. However, a priority list needed to be made so as build season progresses, what is higher on the list will have more energy dedicated to it. Out of the elements: shooting, turning the control panel, and hanging, priorities were set with hanging being number one, followed by shooting, and spinning the control panel falling in last. Why did we choose this order? Strictly due to the point system.
Without question, hanging has to be the number one feature on the robot. With hanging bots, each alliance has the ability to gain 25 points per bot that climbs, and 15 points if the shield generator is balanced. As the dabate for shooter verses spinner ensued, the team split into sub groups to discuss the strategy behind each option. In the end, there was a unanimous vote to make the shooting mechanism second priority. The reason is due to the fact that in each stage, shooting is the more predominant activity while the control panel is unlocked only after a certain amount of points have been scored by shooting power cells.
When shooting power cells, there are three ports for each alliance to score into. The bottom port is worth one point, the outer hexagon port is worth two points, and if a ball enters the inner, a team will receive three points. Each of these values is doubled during the 15 second autonomous period due to the enhanced difficulty. Our team easily decided that shooting for the inner port would be smartest. Although it is harder to achieve, if missed, our team will still be granted two points.
The Power Port (top left), point values (top right), Field lay out (bottom)
Once the team strategy was determined, we broke up into subgroups to brainstorm designs. Each team pitched their ideas to the whole group for further collaboration. The CAD team is currently working to combine, improve, and develop these ideas to design a complete model of the competition robot. Meanwhile, the build team is prototyping the shooter mechanism. Experimenting with the compactness, wheel type, and angle of the shooter, the team was able to repeatedly hit a target at the height the inner port will be at. Through trial and error, our build team found that by tightening the space where the ball is shot from, the ball will travel significantly further. With the wheel that propels the ball applying more pressure, the "power cells" will reach much greater lengths. Being able to shoot further back will allow faster cycle times due to less distance traveled.
This is only the beginning of a long season of redesigning, testing and improving. The 2020 season has no bag time meaning teams can work on their robots continually without restriction. Each member will be working rigorously to complete the tasks they are assigned by their leads. Every teammate will contribute to the final product by sharing ideas, collaborating, and delivering high quality work.
Although, the concept of the FIRST Robotics competition (FRC) is frequently compared to battlebots, the similarities end at robots competing. FIRST instils the practice of innovation in students by giving them a hands on experience. Teaching thousands of kids across the world about engineering with a thrilling and rewarding competition excites young minds and attracts them to the field of STEM. By giving students the creative freedom to design, build, wire, and drive, FIRST encourages innovation that will better the future through STEM. As Dean Kamen, the co-founder of FIRST, so wisely put it "you're either on the bus... or under it" 😉