FRC Team Makes Major Strides in Canada

Simon Huss
This last Wednesday, March 6 through Saturday, March 9, the Windward Omnicats Robotics Team competed in the Canadian Pacific Regional.  It was our first international trip as a team, and it was a truly successful and rewarding experience. Prior to the team’s arrival, Mentors and Science Department Lab Techs, Tri Nguyen, and Regina Rubio, drove the robot, the “pit,” and the tools up separately from Los Angeles in a large cargo van.

The team arrived Wednesday night. A dedicated group of Seniors set up the pit and dropped off our bagged robot to be unpacked the next morning. Anticipation of the competition and the chance to see our bot in action was present and electric.

Day two in Victoria was a grind. The day was ostensibly dedicated to testing and inspection. We had work to do on the robot that was bagged three weeks beforehand.  

First, we had to address the electrical board that was damaged in the journey. This took an hour or so. What followed was a critical assessment of the 'foot'—our scary, but workable,  method of climbing the 6" platform at the end of every match.

The foot was perhaps our most iffy mechanism, working some of the time, and tipping the robot back perilously close to falling every time.  Lastly, we needed to get inspected. Robots need to show compliance with weight restrictions, electrical safety, bumper tools, sharp surfaces choices, etc... We made out of the process pretty well with a bot just under the weight limit and with minor changes needed for bumper mounting. While minor 'remodeling' was happening, half of our team joined Mirna Cardenas and Regina Rubio on an excursion through beautiful Victoria and ended with an augmented reality escape room experience. Having 21 team members at the event was fantastic, but during repair and inspection day, only a handful had meaningful work to do, so an excursion was just the thing. At the end of the day, steel guy-wires were added for robot lift stability and basic drive functions were fixed.  Much of the driving requires use of the camera and can be tricky. The evening ended with the bulk of the team going out to a nice harbor restaurant while code team stayed behind to try and address computer vision issues.

Day three marked the beginning of competition. Each team competed in a total of eleven qualifying rounds followed by a selection process that established quarterfinal alliances of three teams each. It was an eventful and exciting day. We started the day trying out different drive teams. In fairness, none of our students had much driving experience with the robot since we really didn’t finish the beast in time to allow for significant practice back home.  As such, our first few matches were hesitant at best. We had some breakages as well and had to attend to those as well as figure out the subtleties. We went 1-3. While we were slow to score game objects, we consistently climbed with our foot when given the chance. Our luck began to change in the afternoon. A permanent drive team was established at lunch and the code team worked to implement a novel solution to the camera imaging problems. Our first few matches after lunch were nail biters. When our climber failed, we played defense, all the while improving our facility with game objects. We disconnected our climber at one point to work on it, and the shift in weight nearly did us in. We even thought we had it working for the last match, giving us around eight minutes for folks to install the mechanism (a process that typically took 30 minutes or more). At the end of the day, we damaged the climber again and solidified a 4-4 record, the last three qualifying matches to be played on Saturday.

Saturday was the last day of competition. We arrived to find that we had been awarded the Pit Safety Award, a testament to detail, cleanliness, and procedures of our safety captain and the rest of the team. But time was not on our side; drive team members scrambled to finish and install a new mechanism to replace the broken foot.  Since we were scheduled to play in the first match of the day, a core group of students and our Boeing mentor, Murat Piker, had to stay behind to perform robot surgery under intense time constraints and pressure. The first match was a great back and forth, with rapid scoring on both sides. Our climber didn’t function and we had to be satisfied with a tie. The last two matches were similarly fraught—our climbing mechanism never recovered. Worse still, our main game object manipulator (the “claw”) was damaged and had to be removed for the last match making us essentially a defensive bot. While the game play took place on the field and in the pit, our Business Team was talking to judges and making overtures and alliances with other teams in anticipation of final selection. Similarly, our Competitive Analysis team scoured the records of other teams to present a useful cache of intelligence to our drivers and Business Team.

At the start of selection, we were ranked 14th place with a record of 5-5-1. This was a precarious position—not high enough to be the first choice of the best teams, but not low enough to be the final choice of the best teams either. We were selected into the 6th seed alliance. Quarterfinals pitted our seed against the 3rd seed, a long shot. We fought valiantly during our two quarterfinal matches, scoring and playing defensively as good as we had all day, but we ended up losing to the 3rd seed.

After the finals, the award ceremony brought all the teams and spectators together again. Having already won the Pit Safety Award, Windward was runner up for the Industrial Safety Award and the winner of the Gracious Professionalism Award. Overall, this performance showed the team’s progression, as we achieved the best individual ranking our team has ever had in a regional going into selection. In addition, our capturing the Gracious Professionalism Award demonstrates our team’s commitment to the values of FIRST and good sportsmanship—true Windward values.  

Following awards, the team packed up the pit, bagged the robot and put it all in the van. We compete again in less than two weeks in LA, now a wiser and more experienced group. Go Omnicats!
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Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.