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.