Silver Chips Online

Blair Robot Project competes at Washington, D.C. regional

Blair team already preparing for tough future competitions

By David Zheng, Online Entertainment Editor
March 7, 2009
The Blair Robot Project placed 23rd out of 65 participating teams at the 2009 For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition (FIRST FRC) Washington, D.C. regional at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Feb. 26.

FRC is an annual international event that began in 1992 and has since attracted more than 1,300 participating teams and 12,500 students.

The FRC challenges students around the country with a game design from which teams have six weeks to assimilate their engineering, programming and constructing skills into creating a robot to accomplish the game's objectives. This year's game, "Lunacy," required team robots to work in alliances to score balls into baskets attached to opposing robots while driving around on a slick arena track.

With four wins and three losses in the qualification matches at the D.C. regional, Blair was not picked to move on to elimination matches, the next step of the competition. Problems attributed to the camera sensor detecting the robot's shooter hindered the team from scoring (in beginning rounds?). The shooter calculated the distance and power needed to score too slowly, which hindered the team since all targets were moving, according to senior member William Shepherdson.

The team plans to participate again at the Chesapeake regional on March 19. "We can bring 40 pounds of parts and things we build to modify our robot for Chesapeake," Shepherdson said. "We want to retweak the code a bit and are thinking about redoing our scoring mechanism." Teams from the winning alliance of each regional competition move on to the national championship in Atlanta, Ga. on April 16.

The Blair Robot Project, sponsored by physics teacher Joseph Boettcher and computer science teacher Mary McManus, began the build(ing?) season on Jan. 3 by dividing their tasks into five smaller groups - electronics, programming, drive, specialty and public relations. After three thousand dollars in parts, $9,000 in prototyping and hundreds of hours of work, the team built a 119-pound, five-foot tall robot with an automated-camera controlled turret shooter and a smooth drive system. "Some of the most dedicated members put in over 200 hours over build season," junior vice president Eric Van Albert said.

This year's performance is an improvement form last year when the Blair Robot Project placed 12th among 63 teams at the New Jersey regional competition last year. After making it to the national championships in 2004, the team failed to produce functional robots for the next three FRCs. "Seniors graduated, too many mentors were lost and there weren't many to pick up the pieces," Shepherdson said.

Shepherdson attributes the recent progress to organization as well as sponsorship from corporations such as the Army Research Laboratory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and BAE Systems. New mentors, many of whom are parents of members, have also aided the rising team. "We actually learned a lot about engineering," Van Albert said. "It didn't feel like we were throwing random parts together until something worked."

The Blair Robot Project sees the FRC not only as an opportunity to hone engineering skills but a chance to test their teamwork and strategic abilities. "Members learned about the spirit of the FIRST competition: cooperation and helping others, even competitors," Van Albert said. "It was an experience in itself."

http://silverchips.mbhs.edu/story/8991