Lego robotics competition!

Nick broke the news below on our performance, so I’ll do color commentary here. We had an excellent day of competition on Saturday at Oxford Area High School in Oxford, PA. Our qualifier had 36 teams, of which about half will advance to the regional competition in Delaware later this month. We were not among the chosen, alas, but we had an impressive rookie year.

Many of you have been curious about the mechanics of the competition itself: How does it work? How are you competing? Each team’s robot has to complete missions on a competition field for points. Each robot has its own field, so you’re not sharing space with another team’s robot. The competition setup at Oxford looked like this:

Competition and practice fields

You can see four white fields at the front of the gym, with PVC tubing and lights surrounding the fields. Those are the competition fields – A through D. In the back on the right, you can see four more. Those are the practice fields that teams can use between rounds to tweak their robots’ performance. Here’s a closer view of fields C and D:

Field setup

During competition rounds, each field has an assigned referee, and a volunteer who assists the referee as directed, for instance removing stray objects from the field. (If your robot drops something during a run, or runs into a movable object, you can ask to have those things removed from the field while the round is in progress.)

Of course, during competition the fields are a little more crowded. Here’s a typical scene during a competition round… note that we are not pictured here:

Lego robot fields during competition

There can be only two team members at a time working with the robot during the competition, but the kids can “tag team” in and out of the driver positions as much as they like. Here is another team from SAP, the POSbots (#3493), during one of their rounds:

SAP POSbots during a round

The robots have 2 minutes and 30 seconds to complete their round. At the end, the referee reviews the final positions of everything with the kids in order to score the round. This is again a typical scene, with our team not pictured:

A typical scoring session after a round

Each team gets three rounds of robot competition, and your best score from the three rounds is what counts toward your performance total. Our three scores were 90, 120, and 85, so our best score on the day was 120 points. While we thought our robot could reach the range of 200-220 points, we encountered a lot of things during competition that we didn’t anticipate in training. That seemed to be true of other teams, too – the best score from our qualifier was 195 points out of a possible 400.

Before the robot competition began, we had three kinds of judging in classrooms – technical judging of the robot, a teamwork exercise, and a presentation of our research project, which came together beautifully. Brian and Jason did phenomenal work:

Jason and Brian present our research

Here’s our group at our table in the cafeteria, which is called “the pit” during competition:

The Green Monsters

Here is Nick just before the first round of competition. He admitted to me before we went to our competition field that he felt nervous and unready. You wouldn’t have known it from his work during the round – he was a stone cold Lego assassin:

Nick before the first round

Our performance in the first round led us to make some tweaks to the robot’s programming. Here is Nick at a practice table working the code:

Nick tweaks the programming

Throughout the day we were lucky enough to have the support of family and friends, including the POSbots, who were thoughtful enough to make a sign for us in addition to their own signs. Thanks so much, POSbots!

The other SAP team cheers us on

Maria, Nora, and Anna had a blast at the event, running around and socializing. They cheered for us with great enthusiasm, standing at the top of the bleachers for maximum carry:

Maria, Anna, and Nora cheer from afar

They also helped us hand out finger monsters in honor of our team name, SAP Green Monsters:

Maria and Nora model the finger monsters

At the end of the day we came up short in the hardware department, and we are not advancing to regionals. Yet I came away from the qualifiers with a feeling of great accomplishment for the team. We performed better than I imagined in the qualifiers, and we learned an enormous amount from the experience. We hope to be back next year, collecting one of these:

Hardware... none for us this time