The 2015 FRC game is called Recycle Rush. It is played by two alliances of three teams that are separated into red and blue sides by a large “step” in the middle of the 27’x54’ field. On each side of the field there are two scoring platforms. During the 15 second autonomous period robots use preprogrammed instructions to move themselves, yellow totes, and containers into the “auto zone” for varying numbers of points. During the 2 minute 15 second teleoperated period alliances score points by making stacks of gray totes (up to 6 high), capping the stacks with recycling bins, and placing pool noodles in the bins. Each tote is worth two points, each noodle (litter) is 6 points, and a container is worth four points per level. So if there is stack of four and a bin is placed on top the bin is worth 4x4=16 points. Human players can attempt to throw the noodles onto the other side of the field for four points each. Alliances may also stack yellow totes on the step in conjunction with the other alliance for an additional 40 points. Team performance is based on average score, not wins and losses, because there is no defense. With the exception of the finals of the playoffs, only teams with strong average scores will advance.
On March 5-7, the Aluminum Falcons competed in their first event of the 2015 competition season at the Pioneer Valley District Event at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, MA. The competition featured many strong teams from New England that included powerhouses 175, 176, and 177. After a difficult build season where the team lost 10 days to snow, Team 2168 was the first to arrive on set up day. After helping FIRST volunteers set up the pits, a core group of veteran team members and mentors worked to finish the robot in time for the matches in the morning. Working tirelessly until the pits closed this group was able to get the robot in working order for qualification matches the next day. The drive team started out shaky as drive practice had been limited during the build season. The Aluminum Falcons struggled to perform well, and while the drive team began to improve the team ended the first day of competition ranked only 29 out of 33. Eager to turn the team’s fortunes around, the Aluminum Falcons came back strong during the final qualification matches the next day and skyrocketed into 17th. During the morning the programming team also worked on developing code that would allow the team to pick up and stack the three yellow totes in autonomous, which would result in an extra 20 points a match for the team.
For the elimination rounds the Aluminum Falcons were selected by the #5 alliance of Team 3146 Granby Grunts and Team 3718 Junkyard Battalion. Unlike other years, advancement in the playoffs would not be based on a best of three series of matches but by highest average score. During the lunch break the Aluminum Falcons worked with these teams to develop a strong game plan. 3146 would stack totes by loading from the human player, 3718 would stack from the landfill area on the field, and 2168 would cap the stacks with recycling bins to optimize the score. One of the most important details was that 3718 and 3146 would move recycling bins out of the Falcons’ way during autonomous and give the team a much stronger chance to earn the crucial 20 point bonus.
In the first quarterfinal match the alliance did not perform well, scoring only 51 points. This placed the alliance in 6th heading into the second and final quarterfinal match. In the second match, the team’s first successful 20 point autonomous led to a score of 78, bringing the average score to 64.5 and the Aluminum Falcons to the semifinals. Here the team would play once against every team and the teams with the two highest average scores would advance to the best-of-three finals. The alliance consistently performed well, scoring in the mid-80s each time and moving into the finals against the #3 alliance of Team 316 LuNaTeCs, Team 61 The Intimidators, and Team 663 Robonauts. Finals match 1 was a nail biter. Each alliance performed very well, but the third seeded alliance came out on top 104-98. In a do or die situation the alliance clicked on all cylinders in the next match, scoring 110 points to the other alliance’s 73. The final match was almost perfect for the Aluminum Falcons' alliance, and a last second recycling bin cap on one of the stacks punctuated the 128-76 victory as the Falcons set the high score for the competition. The Aluminum Falcons, with two teams that had never won a competition before, had emerged victorious at the Pioneer Valley District Event.
It was a really incredible turnaround for a team that was close to last place after the first day of competition. Many members worked constantly to improve and achieve victory. Cameron Wilhelm and Robert Tompkins headed mechanical efforts to improve robot functionality throughout the competition. Vittorio Papandrea led programming efforts to complete the eventually successful 20 point autonomous. The drive team of base driver Emma Stark and operator Finian O’Connor improved drastically over the course of the competition. And human player Jacob Kowalski, also part of the drive team, scored 28+ points per game during the playoffs with his exceptional noodle throwing skills, far surpassing every other human player at the competition. Each of these team members played a critical role in the team’s victory.
This competition was an incredible experience for the team. Even though we were not the most successful robot on the field we proved that hard work and an effective game strategy could overcome functionality problems. The team will compete at the Rhode Island District Event in two weeks, ready to excel once more.
From March 20-22 the Aluminum Falcons competed at their second competition of the year at the Rhode Island District Event at Bryant University. The team came into the competition with an upgraded design for the tote intake mechanism, and was confident they could utilize this improvement to become a more effective stacking robot at the competition.
The entire competition field saw scores much higher than the first few weeks of competition, and in their first match the Falcons scored 140 points, higher than the high score at their previous competition. Team 2168 worked to improve their scoring capacity throughout the one and a half days of qualification matches, often focusing on securing the 40 point coopertition bonus with the other alliance. With an improved intake system the Falcons constantly ranked near the top and finished qualification matches ranked fourth.
During alliance selection the Falcons moved up into the #3 picking position and selected Team 1517 The Lumberjacks and Team 1757 Wolverines to be their alliance partners. Both teams were strong stackers, but the Aluminum Falcons could not successfully cap them with recycling bins. This led to an early exit from the Playoffs in the quarterfinals. The Falcons didn’t go home empty handed though. Long time mentor Kevin Harrilal was selected as a Woodie Flowers Award Semifinalist at the event. The award recognizes mentors who lead, inspire, and empower using excellent communication skills. As a District event winner Kevin will be eligible to be a Woodie Flowers Award recipient at the District Championship in Worcester. This award is a testament to Kevin's dedication and hard work as the team's longest serving member and we couldn't be happier for him.
With their performance in both of their district events Team 2168 qualified to compete in the New England District Championship at WPI. The entire team is excited to have this opportunity to compete with best teams in New England.
The Aluminum Falcons competed at the New England District Championship from April 8-11 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute with the 60 best teams in New England this year. The level of competition at this event far surpassed any District or Regional event this year and was almost on the level of the World Championships.
The Aluminum Falcons came in ranked in the low thirties in New England and knew they would need a strong performance to move into the top thirty and secure a place at the World Championships in St. Louis. To this end Team 2168 had further modified their intake and tote gripper mechanisms to be a more effective scorer. While the team personally performed better than they had all season the Falcons only ranked 26th as a result of the extremely high level of competition. Furthermore, the team was not selected for Playoffs and watched the rest of the event from the sidelines.
Although this was a disappointing outcome for the team, everyone was still proud of the improvements made to the robot. The programming team continued working on a three tote auto that could be effective without the assistance of alliance partners and drive team improved dramatically over the course of the competition.
Team 2168 did not come away from the competition empty handed though, winning the Innovation in Controls Award. This award celebrates an innovative control system or application of control components – electrical, mechanical, or software – to provide unique machine functions. The award was given to the team as a result of many unique features implemented by the programming team. This was the second year in a row the team won this award at the District Championship, making the Aluminum Falcons the only team to win it at this event so far.
Winning the Innovation in Controls Award combined with their qualification performance also gave the Aluminum Falcons enough district points to move into 30th place in New England and qualify for the World Championships in St. Louis. The team is thrilled to have the opportunity to compete with the best robots from around the world.