After our two back-to-back competitions, we were excited to get a chance to relax and catch up on life and some good tea! Our break was quite restful, but we knew that preparation for States had to begin soon. A few days after the end of Guilford, we met to unpack Moby, our transportation van, and to discuss improvements to make to our robot, Deep Thought. More traction was something that we all agreed would be the most beneficial and easy change to make.
Originally, Deep Thought had four pneumatic wheels, but we quickly changed that before our first competition at Wake once we saw that it did not allow for as much maneuverability as we wanted. It was for this reason that we switched to having two pairs of omni wheels in the front and the back with two pneumatic wheels in the middle. The problem with that configuration was that the pneumatic wheels we had were slightly smaller than our omni wheels, causing our weight to be mainly on our omnis. In turn, this made us more susceptible to defense.
To fix that, we played around with several ideas, but in the end, we decided to just switch out the pneumatic wheels in the middle for traction wheels. These, we made sure, actually touched the ground and made us less pushable, enabling us to cycle more and faster!
One of our students also wanted to devote time to making a new hatch mechanism, so he made small lexan hook for Deep Thought. While it did not work well for its intended purpose, we kept it on the robot as it helped out with collecting the ball. Previously, we were having difficulty collecting a ball in the middle of the field while it was moving. The hook stopped the ball from rolling, enabling us to collect much faster and increase the number of cycles we could do in a match!
Finally, it was time for the competition to start! On the day of load-in, we were ready for the competition and in high spirits, but we were also slightly apprehensive. We knew that we had a team history of getting difficult match schedules, especially at States, so it was with a nervous, eager anticipation that we waited for the match schedule to be released. Eventually, it was released late that night, and we immediately started looking over our schedule and comparing it to other teams’ schedules. Sure enough, it was going to be rough for us. In five different matches, we were against one team three times and another team twice. Unfortunately, these were the other top teams in the state, and in their matches against us, they would have more help from their alliance partners than we would. Rather than panic, however, we remained calm, and after a good night’s sleep, qualification matches began the next day!
As expected, we had our ups and downs throughout the day. There were times that we performed quite well, times we were up against a tough alliance, and times we were with alliance partners that were difficult to work with. We also had a few matches where mechanical issues prevented us from showing and achieving our full potential. For example, our lexan plate that covered our batter holder flipped up during a match, and we could not get it to go back in place, preventing us from collecting cargo for the entire match.
The next day, qualification matches went much better for us! Though we were predicted to lose each match, and we did indeed lose them, we performed well and managed to finish ranked 14th despite our difficulties. Alliance selections quickly followed the end of qualification rounds, and we ended up getting picked by the 5th Alliance! At the end of selections, our two alliance partners were Team 4828, RoboEagles, and Team 7890, SeQuEnCe! Though our alliance did not advance beyond quarterfinals, we ended the competition as the recipients of the Imagery Award and easily qualified for the World Championships in Houston!
During the week leading up to our next competition at the Guilford County District Event, our main goal was to improve our ball collector. Cargo scored more points, so we decided not to focus on scoring hatches. At the previous competition, we noticed that Deep Thought would lose the ball too easily, so we worked on a way to hold the ball more tightly. The first thing we tried was adding a lower bar with wheels in addition to bar on top that we already had. While it worked decently, we decided to go a different route, opting instead to just add a more full plate of lexan underneath our current collector to act as a holder. We also added another camera with a wider angle to Deep Thought, allowing our drivers to see what they were doing more clearly, and discovered a problem with our drivetrain gearboxes. The drivetrain gearboxes were not screwed in properly, which caused the driving to be jerky no matter what the drivers did. The drivetrain was also less powerful as a result of that error. Fortunately, we were able to fix that issue before our next competition.
The first day of qualification matches dawned bright and early, but we were ready for the competition to begin! Before matches started, we got in line for a practice match to see how our ball collector held up and if we needed to recalibrate stuff to the new field. To our delight, our ball collector worked even better than we expected it would! At Wake County, we could barely hold and deliver three balls to the cargo ship on a good match. In contrast, we collected and delivered six balls easily with time to spare during the Guilford practice match! The visible improvement was welcome, but we were still nervous. We had shown what we could do during our practice match, but we needed to do it during our real matches. We also had to show it consistently if we wanted to do well. With those thoughts in our heads, qualification matches began.
Our first match went very well for us! We delivered several cargo to the cargo ship and then quickly climbed at the end. Our second match, however, was a different story. A robot on the opposing alliance was playing hard defense on us from the start of the match and knocked one of our bumpers off, resulting in Deep Thought getting disabled for the rest of the match, meaning we could not show off our consistent climb or our improved cargo abilities. It also meant that we had to perform well in every match afterwards if we wanted to do well. Fortunately, the rest of our matches went much like our first one, and at the end of qualification rounds that day and the next, we were ranked 1st out of 36 teams!
Alliance Selections followed soon after, and we ended up picking an alliance that consisted of Team 2655, The Flying Platypi, and Team 6729, RobCoBots! After a break for lunch and a strategy discussion with our alliance partners, playoff rounds began, but not before we were thrown for another loop! Because it was not communicated clearly when playoff rounds began, our primary driver left the venue to go buy lunch. Oridinarily, this would not be a huge problem, but we could not get in touch with him due to the poor signal and WiFi at the venue. As a result, our primary driver was seconds away from missing our first match! Despite that, quarterfinals passed smoothly for our alliance. That quickly changed in semifinals.
Early on in our first semifinals match, an opposing robot rammed into us so hard that 25 rivets in our belly pan popped out, causing our whole chassis frame to be crooked with one side much higher than the other. Deep Thought could barely drive much less do anything else. To make matters worse, our alliance got a red card at the end of the match. What happened was that one of our alliance partners lost comms as they were playing defense. Because our alliance partner’s robot had been unable to move the required distance away to cancel a pin before losing comms and the robot they were playing defense on had also lost comms, a red card was called for pining for over 15 seconds. Fortunately, we knew not to panic and kept calm. Once we got Deep Thought off the field, we set about trying to repair the damage that was done to him. Several minutes later, our chassis frame was fixed, and we went back in queue to wait for our next match.
Right before the second semifinals match of the competition began, our head ref went onto the field to announce something. Apparently, there was a WiFi issue during our first semifinals match, which was confirmed by FIRST National Headquarters, so they would be replaying our match, giving us quite the pleasant surprise and new hope!
Soon after, it was time for our replay, and it was not until teleop that we discovered our robot was more broken than we thought from that hit. Our elevator would not go down for the whole match (a sensor inside our frame perimeter got ripped off), but our alliance still managed to pull a win, and we were able to fix Deep Thought before the next match! Luckily, finals passed for us without incident, and at the conclusion of playoffs, our alliance took home the blue banner! We also received the Autonomous Award for our climb!
Carrborobotics, our rookie mentee team, also did well at Guilford. They were captain of the 4th alliance and won the Rookie All-Star Award!
After bagging and tagging our 2019 robot, Deep Thought, we took a few days to catch up on some sleep and school. However, we knew that our break could not be long due to our mechanical falling behind schedule quite a bit. With that in mind, we set out to improve the status of our mechanical, which was possible through the Withholding Allowance. The Withholding Allowance allowed us to have 30 lbs of fabricated parts that we did not have to bag and tag, enabling us to continue our work on the arm that attaches to our elevator and our ball and hatch collectors.
The two weeks leading up to our first competition at the Wake County District Event were used mostly on fabricating a new hatch collector (the old one did not work well) and testing various mechanical functionalities. Near the end of the second week, we had a hatch collector that worked and a little time to test various functions of our robot.
We also spent the time continuing our outreach efforts. A few days following the end of Build Season, we, along with several other NC teams, participated in a showcase of FIRST for the NC Legislature, and two days before the start of our first competition, we presented and demoed at Apex Elementary’s Science Spectacular. Science Spectacular is an event that we have participated in for many years, and it allows us to spread the message of FIRST to over 400 children and get them as excited about STEM as we are. Unfortunately, right before the event began, we broke a chain on Deep Thought that was essential to lifting our robot to the third level of the HAB Zone. Because of certain rules, we were not allowed to fix any damage sustained by our robot at the demo itself, so we had to fix it later during the couple of unbag hours we had left (teams get 6 hours total of allowed unbag time a week before a competition). Despite that mishap, the demo itself went smoothly. While our voices were shot by the end of the day, it was a ton of fun, and we loved seeing the children’s faces light up when we showed them what our robots can do and how they work!
Soon, it was time for our first competition to start. As usual, the first day was devoted to unloading all of our stuff and setting up our pit. After we had finished with those tasks, we set out to get our robot inspected, which is a requirement for all teams to ensure that we meet FIRST and game regulations. Passing inspection does not usually take us long, but for some reason, our radio would not flash during inspection. In short, this meant that we could not go to the practice field or participate in any game matches until the issue was resolved. Eventually, we got it to flash by updating the radio over and over again, and we were able to get a few minutes on the practice field before pits closed for the day!
The next day, qualification matches started, and as expected, our first few matches were rough. Prior to the competition, we were unable to extensively test out all features of our robot, and our Drive Team had less than two hours of actual practice with Deep Thought. Our primary driver was not even there for that practice as he had not been feeling well (fortunately, he felt well enough in time for the event!). Coupled with issues such as joystick problems and getting stuck on a ball (which was quite a common problem for teams the first week), it was a unique start to the day! We also had a problem where our endgame mechanism would deploy too soon, and for a few matches, it made it so that we could not collect cargo until we figured out a way around the problem. Despite these difficulties, we improved throughout our matches and even ended the day ranked 7th thanks to our consistent climb to the third level (a platform 19 inches above the ground) of the HAB Zone!
Things continued to improve the next morning, and after the end of qualification matches, we were ranked 5th! During Alliance Selections, we moved up to being captain of the 4th alliance with Team 3737, Roto-Raptors, and Team 7029, Scotbotics, as our alliance partners! While our alliance did not advance beyond semifinals, we had a ton of fun, received the Gracious Professionalism Award for the 6th time, and learned some valuable lessons and things to improve for our next competition at the Guilford County District Event!
Additionally, Team 7763, Carrborobotics, the rookie team we are paired with and mentor for the TEAMS Grant, did quite well at their first competition ever! They finished ranked 14th, and ended up on the 5th alliance. They did not advance beyond the first round of playoffs, but they enjoyed themselves and learned a lot!
Apart from using THOR, Thundering Herd of Robots, as training for newer students, we were also able to use the off-season competition we helped start in 2013 to test how our driver candidates performed under pressure and how well different combinations of drive teams functioned.
With a few practice matches under our belts to calibrate Grunthos, our 2018 robot, to the field and give a few of our drivers practice, the qualification matches started. Despite a slightly rough start, including having our encoders pop out of place for at least the third time again this season and our elevator getting stuck at the top for most of a match, we managed to recover from our rough start and began to climb the rankings, finishing strong in both robot performance and driver candidates! The latter was especially surprising because some of the drivers we were testing had never even touched Grunthos’ controls before THOR. At the end of qualification matches, we were able to assess the drive team combination that would work best and ended the matches ranked 1st!
Soon after, it was time for Alliance Selections, and we ended up picking an alliance that consisted of Team 5190, Green Hope Falcons, and Team 4829, Titanium Tigers! After a quick lunch and strategy meeting with our alliance partners, playoff matches began. It took a couple of matches, but our alliance eventually established a rhythm and at the end of playoffs, we had won THOR for the first time in our team history!
Prior to the start of Worlds, we learned that we had been placed in the Turing Division with many of our NC friends like Team 2642, Pitt Pirates (the team we won two competitions with this season). On the first day of the Houston World Championships, we got to work getting settled into our hotel, unbagging Grunthos, and setting up our Pit at the End of the Universe. We also attended a party hosted by Qualcomm, who payed for our Worlds’ registration fee, and eventually, made our way back to our hotel for some rest before qualification matches began the next day.
After a good night’s sleep, we were eager for qualification matches to begin. Despite a match where our encoders popped out and our auto messed up as a result, the rest of the day’s matches went smoothly. We were able to showcase our skills and flexibility and managed to pull some surprising match wins. At the end of the day, we were ranked 21st with several teams impressed with us and some useful information gained from the conferences we attended.
The next day, we continued to win matches that we were predicted to lose and performed well. In the end, we kept our 21st rank status. Our favorite moment of that day, and indeed the whole Worlds experience, though, was when one of our drive team members switched jumpsuits with 2642’s main driver! It caused quite a bit of confusion at first for NC teams, but it was quite hilarious, and we loved the bonding moment between our two teams!
Before we knew it, it was the next day, and it was time for Alliance Selections. Throughout the course of qualification matches, several teams had come up to us to discuss the possibility of being in an alliance together, but we knew that crazy things happen during Selections, so we were not sure what would happen. Though we ended up not getting picked to join an alliance, we had a blast cheering on fellow NC teams who were and spent the remainder of our time cheering them on, packing up, and watching the Einstein finals.
Overall, we enjoyed our time at Worlds, and we were able to strengthen as a team and continue to bond with our fellow NC teams in our division!
After three back-to-back competitions, we were more than ready for a break! Fortunately, we got a week to rest, recover, and drink some tea. However, we knew that we could not relax too much since States was right around the corner. After our break, we met a few more times to refine and fix up Grunthos. A couple of students on our team also made a hook for Grunthos to climb with.
On load-in day, we were in pretty high spirits and things were going well. Later on in the night, the qualification match schedule got released, so we took a look. At first glance it did not seem so bad, but then we took a closer look. In five different matches, we were going against one team three times and another team twice. Unfortunately, both of these teams were the other top teams in the state. Needless to say, it was going to be tough for us. However, we knew that we had to remain optimistic and not panic!
The next day, our first match went smoothly, but after that, we hit a series of unfortunate events. In addition to our rough schedule match, we had to contend with our climbing hook getting in our way and hindering our robot performance. Despite these problems, we ended the day ranked 8th!
The following day, we removed the hook after it caused us another issue during our second to last match. Before that match, we attempted to tie the hook up because of all the problems it had created. Sadly, it was not enough, and the hook jammed our elevator lift. After that match, we made the decision to remove the hook from the robot completely. Fortunately, we still kept our 8th rank by the time Alliance Selections rolled around, and we ended up as the first pick of the 4th Alliance. At the end of the selections, our two alliance partners were Team 2655, The Flying Platypi, and Team 6003, SUM! Ever since we gave Team 6003 our gearboxes during week 4 of the build season, we continued to help them by giving them advice, tools, and anything else they needed. In doing so, we developed a close bond between our teams, so we were thrilled to finally be in an alliance with them! Playoffs followed in quick succession, and we ended the competition as Semi-finalists and qualified for the World Championships in Houston!
Next up: Worlds in Houston!