Among a field of 42 teams from New York, New England--and even one from Old England--a field that included three prior world champion teams, the Fitch Robotics team took their sixth-seeded alliance through a series of upsets from the quarter-finals all the way to the 3rd-game in the best of 3 finals to win the WPI Regional FIRST Robotics competition.
This video will explain this year's game:
In short, the robots had to be designed to shoot Frisbees into various goals valued at 1 to 5 points depending on their difficulty. During a competition match, a "red" alliance of three teams competes against a "blue" alliance. Alliances are randomly assigned during qualification matches and are given seeding points according to their success. Subsequently, the top eight robots select the alliance partners they will have during the final elimination rounds.
It was an "Epic Tale," winning this event.
On the Thursday "set-up" day, the team found out that, at 123 lbs, the robot was 3 pounds overweight. The next few hours were tense as the team tried to figure out how to “lighten up” an already pared-down robot.
One of the pieces that had to be removed was a chute that was necessary for loading the robot with more Frisbees during the matches. After cutting off every piece of metal that was not crucial, the robot was re-weighed and finally passed inspection at 120.0 lbs.
Friday's matches began with difficulty when a snow-storm prevented the team from getting to the competition on time. A disqualification was prevented when a student from another team agreed to drive our robot for us. The remaining 4 matches of the day went very well, leaving the Aluminum Falcons in 5th place overall, but the team was not satisfied with the control of the shooter arm which seemed to get sloppier as the day went on.
Saturday morning the team took a huge gamble in completely changing the mechanism for controlling the arm. We took out the motors, gears and chains, and swapped in a pneumatic piston, tubes, and an air compressor.
In this time we missed 3 of our last 4 qualification matches. But what we gained was better precision in scoring the crucial "autonomous" points (scored during the first 15 seconds of the game, when the robot is only responding to it's per-programmed code.)
The real reason we won is not due to what we scored, but how we managed to stop some of the best teams in New England from being able to score. Emma Stark, driver of the Fitch robot, is a sophomore but has already been spoken of by some as "One of the best drivers in FIRST Robotics."
Emma showed an unmatchable talent at taking defense as far as it can go without incurring fouls (at least not too many fouls). By pushing the corner of an opponent's robot, Emma would rotate them 90 degrees sending them in the wrong direction or making them waste time in realigning their shots. Alliances that expected to score 70 points or more were lucky to score 20 during the 2-minute "teleoperated" (or remote-controlled) period.
With this win, the Aluminum Falcons have qualified to attend the Championship event in St Louis this April. In order to go we will have to raise several thousand dollars.
There is another regional event coming up in Hartford on March 28, 29, & 30. The Connecticut Regional FIRST Robotics Competition will be slightly more competitive, with 54 teams attending, including teams from Ledyard, New London, Bacon Academy, Lyme-Old Lyme, Guilford, and nearly 40 others from around the state.
People's initial response to "robotics team" is often to imagine table-top robots, maybe made of LEGOs. We are talking about the 120lb robots that are designed and built in 6 weeks. This is the "varsity" robotics program. This is no "club." We are talking the single most significant STEM activity at American high schools.
This is a huge win of huger significance for Fitchand the Groton community. Families already have located by choice in Groton to be part of this team.
We have a real chance at making it to the finals of the championship, and that's out of 400 of the best teams from across the continent. This is in the face of having a budget and resources as little as 1/3 to 1/4 of our big competitors.
We are not just building robots, we are building engineers here, the most important and in-demand field of employment. Families with an understanding of STEM education know what they are looking for, and one of the most-significant indicators of a school's commitment to STEM is a strong robotics team. This is it. We are going to the championships, and that's an eye-opener.