Bobcats compete at VEX robotics competition
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Wed., Jan. 9, 2013
The South Windsor High School VEX robotics teams, 1777 and 1777B, attended their third competition of the season at Manchester High School on Saturday, Jan. 5. For team 1777, which had already qualified for states, this was an opportunity to practice further with its robot. For 1777B, the competition was its last chance to qualify.
About 40 teams from high schools throughout New England competed at the event. The object of the competition was for robots to face off and determine which could lift more bean bags off the floor and place them into an elevated container. Since the game changes each year for VEX competitions, teams have to design and build a new robot each season.
The team is coached by Norm Smith, a technology education teacher at South Windsor High School. He teaches a robotics class that is separate from the VEX competition, though many of those students are in VEX, as well as SWHS's other robotics team, FIRST. Smith describes VEX as more locally focused – an introduction to the world of competitive robot-building. FIRST, however, competes at a much more regional level and has ranked high at national competitions for years. Smith sees the VEX team as a “feeder group” for FIRST. “We get them up to speed on this,” he said. “They learn how to manufacture the robots and about the design process, and they learn how matches go.”
Becoming familiar with robot competitions is a learning process in itself. There are three qualifying matches at a competition which determine ranking. Two teams are allied together to compete against two other teams. When the two top-ranking teams are determined, each chooses two other alliance teams to partner for playoffs. The three-team alliance plays against another three-team alliance in three rounds. All three teams get to play, and since the ranking team's first ally will not be as good as your second ally, some strategy is involved in choosing the right play order.
“They really have to do what we call 'scouting,'” said Smith. “If you go around and talk to the other teams and get to know what their robots can do, then you know who to pick if you're a qualifying team. And hopefully, if you're not a qualifying team, they pick you because they know what you can do. Either way, you want to make it to the playoffs.”
Smith believes both teams are having a good season. “We're doing okay. We could be better,” said Smith. Batteries disconnecting during matches and other minor problems sometimes afflict the robots. Still, the students find it a rewarding experience. “They seem to be having fun, and that's what matters,” Smith said. “And they're learning a lot about the design process.”
Jackie Gaston is a programmer for the team. “We use a program called Robot C, a C-based programming tool,” she said. Coding is an important part of her job, as Robot C requires code to be typed out. This is more in-depth than the previous software she used, in which pre-written code could be dragged and placed to build commands.
Her friend, Haley DelGrico, was originally recruited to the team to use the program Gaston previously used. But when the team moved on to Robot C, DelGrico ended up helping to build the robot. “But since the guys do most of the building, they just use me to get to small places because my hands are so small - I'm like a specialist,” she said.
Kyle Madalena is also a specialist in the sense that his main job in building the robot is attaching and removing chains. He is also one of the drivers who remotely controls the robot during matches – he manipulates the arm that lifts the bean bags off the ground. He likes the design of the robot, even if there was a learning curve to get it right. “At the beginning there were some problems,” he said. “Now, there's still some problems, but overall it's a lot better than it was before.”
By the end of the competition, 1777B unfortunately did not qualify for states. The South Windsor 1777 team will head to the championship alone, held at Central Connecticut State University on Feb. 17.