The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

March 4, 2013

QUICK THINKING

By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — HENRIETTA — The Orleans County 4-H Robotics Club took weeks to design, build and refine their entry in the annual FIRST Robotics Competition.

At this weekend’s Finger Lakes Regional, the clock sped up as a whirlwind of noise, chaos and energy surrounded FRC Team 4093’s last-minute efforts.

New ideas raced from brainstorms to production to the course in just a few hours to attack this year’s Ultimate Ascent challenge.

Each of the regional’s 49 teams went about the challenge, which was scored by launching frisbees into high nets and by climbing pyramidal frames, in unique ways.

Some built robots that worked like souped-up pitching machines, firing frisbees with great force. Others grabbed and clung onto the pyramid’s lowest level, swaying inches of the ground.

Team 4093 opted to go with a strategy that was more King Kong than little chimp, scaling up the corner of a pyramid frame with the intent of reaching the structure’s high-scoring upper levels. 

Their robot was designed to grab onto the frame after a piston pitched the tall, boxy beast on the corner. From there, a hooked track would rotate, pulling it higher — in theory.

“In the first match we were top heavy, it fell over almost immediately ... we’re tried to do a little bit of everything, but now we’re sticking with climbing,” team mentor Eric Seielstad said while the team fixed their robot following match four of Friday.

The team’s young engineers reacted with relish to the challenge, adding an outrigger to keep the robot steady at lower levels.

“The mechanism makes sure it doesn’t fall over when climbing,” Co-Captain Hayden Allis of Medina said.

Then came an attachment centered on the robot’s roof.

“We’re think about using a hook mechanism to grab above the robot,” Co-Captain Allen Sanford of Albion said one moment. Within a 40-minute break in matches the part was designed and installed. 

“It’s take on the same mechanism, but lifting from the middle up,” Sanford said while working in the pit before the match.

The young team also worked on other aspects of the competition Friday. Newcomers Liz Meyer and Kelsey Evoy of Medina scouted the competition from a perch above the arena.

Meyer said they tracked each team’s frisbee scores and height reached on pyramid climbs. With six teams and dozens of frisbees flying across the course, it wasn’t an easy task.

“You have to be really focused,” Meyer said.

Match five brought bad luck. Team 4093’s alliance won their match, but their robot’s pneumatics failed, grounding their climbing machine. A quick fix and a trip to the testing area brought better results.

Team 4093 ultimately adopted a “go big or stay home” approach that brought them close to the 20-point level of the pyramid, but time ran out on their improving robot.

The regional competition pits teams new and old in a random-draw for the first nine matches before the top eight teams draft three-team alliances for the elimination round. The local team missed the cut-off but watched more-experienced and diversified teams compete on Saturday afternoon.

“That’s our long-term goal, we’ll be there in a few years,” Sanford said. “Right now, everybody does everything.”

While Team 4093’s run ended early, there were signs of progress. Within a few matches, the team’s score from last year was obliterated, and the team worked through multiple obstacles in getting their robot higher and higher up the pyramid as the day wore on.

“We’ve improved quite a bit,” Morgan Seielstad said after Friday’s matchday ended. How much? “We’re ... 20, 25, no, 50 times

better.”