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September 2014

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Team takes on the Ultimate Ascent

FIRST Robotics Competition Team 930 members work on a prototype for delivering discs in the Ultimate Ascent 2013 challenge.

FIRST Robotics Competition Team 930 members work on a prototype for delivering discs in the Ultimate Ascent 2013 challenge. Photo by: Carol Spaeth-Bauer

The joke has always been about a water game - a robotics challenge with six robots taking place underwater. The joke prompted FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 930 members to don goggles, flotation devices and snorkels when the team attended the Jan. 5 kickoff at Waukesha County Technical College for the 2013 FRC challenge. However, as the kickoff unfolded and the game, Ultimate Ascent, was revealed, designing a robot to throw Frisbees and climb a pyramid seemed almost as daunting.

"My initial thoughts were holy crap," said four-year FRC Team 930 member Christa Carini, a senior at Mukwonago High School. "It's going to be so crazy hard to pick up a Frisbee. How are we going to throw them? And climbing the pyramid is going to be hard. Everything is hard. It's going to be a challenge figuring out what we're supposed to do."

Anyone connected to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) can tell you that's the point - to challenge young minds, stretch their thinking, give them the real-world challenge of tight budgets, impossible deadlines and limited resources. Anyone connected to FIRST can tell you it's the hardest fun they have ever had in the short six-week duration teams get to complete a working robot to compete in a game that rivals the excitement of many sports events.

FIRST

That's the intent Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, had when he started the program in 1989: to "inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology," according to www.usfirst.org. Kamen is an inventor, entrepreneur and advocate for science and technology whose passion and determination to help young people discover the excitement and rewards of science and technology are the cornerstones of FIRST.

Ultimate Ascent

Each season teams of high-school age students receive a new challenge in the beginning of January. They have six weeks to design, build and program a robot to compete in a game played on a 27x54-foot field. Two competing alliances, each consisting of three robots compete to score as many discs into their goals as possible during a two-minute 15-second match. Higher goals are worth more points.

Matches start with a 15-second autonomous period where robots operate independently of driver input. Discs scored during the autonomous period are worth additional points. After 15 seconds, drivers step up to take control of the robots, trying to score as many goals as possible for the alliance.

The match ends with robots attempting to climb three-level pyramids near the middle of the field. Points are earned based on how high the robots climb.

Robot design

As FRC Team 930, the Mukwonago BEARs (Building Extremely Awesome Robots) brainstormed robot designs, the complexity required for a robot to climb a pyramid quickly came into play. The team decided to focus on doing one task well, since alliance selection comes down to the most reliable, consistent robots in the final rounds of competition.

Game strategy discussion led by MHS teacher Dan Hansen helped guide the design brainstorming as the team determined where the most points could be earned during a match and where to channel the strength of the robot. Maneuverability, speed and power were determining factors as the BEARs discussed drivetrain options, choosing between swerve and six-wheel drive. Last year's driver, MHS senior Adam Talajkowski, voiced concerns about having enough power to avoid getting pushed around on the field.

If the team focuses on scoring goals with discs, how does the robot pick up the disc? How are discs stored on the robot and thrown into the goal? The team poured over videos showing prototypes already flooding YouTube. Accuracy and consistency are key elements to success.

However, the robot must satisfy specific size constraints in order to compete. The total length of the frame perimeter sides may not exceed 112 inches. Height of the robot may never exceed 84 inches. Robots cannot weigh more than 120 pounds. Total cost of all items on the robot cannot exceed $4,000.

With $4,000 invested in robot construction and $9,000 to compete in two regional competitions, one the Wisconsin FRC Regional at the U.S. Cellular Arena on March 21-23 and a second event in Terre Haute, Ind., the team seeks donations from corporate sponsors such as GE, Rockwell, Generac, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Tapco Traffic and Parking Co. Inc. and various businesses and individuals.

Hardest fun

As team members start the long season, many will log nearly 30 hours or more each week outside of school, homework and jobs to complete the task of robot design, build and programming. They will work side-by-side with engineers and professionals to prepare for competition, gaining valuable hands-on experience in science, engineering, computer programming, project and time management and seeing the real-life connection to subjects they learn in school. In an educational world pointing to project-based learning, FRC Team 930 members learn with each new challenge announced by FIRST.

Senior FRC Team 930 member Brian Scharles, the lead programmer for the BEARs, is intrigued by the Ultimate Ascent challenge since throwing discs has never been part any other FRC games. Building a robot to hang on the pyramid will be new to many team members as well. Midway through the first week of the challenge Scharles thinks the team has made a "lot of great progress," having determined the drive train for the robot and what kind of robot the team wants to build.

"From the software side of things this year, I'm really excited for it. There is vision processing again, like last year, so I am looking to do new things in that, as well as the possibility of swerve drive because it's something our team has never done before," Scharles explained.

As a senior team member, Scharles - along with all seniors on the team - will train younger team members during the season for taking over programming next year.

"I'm really excited at how far our team is, and I think we're going to do great this year at competition," Scharles added.

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