FIRST Tech Challenge SC Championship Tournament

February 24, 2020

The GSSM Lobotomists robotics team didn’t get to spend Valentine’s Day with their loved ones this year. Instead, they were on the road with their team driving to Gaffney, South Carolina that afternoon to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge SC Championship Tournament. Spending Valentine’s day on the road was not all that bad for the Lobotomists since everything was working pretty well on their robot, and they were eager to get one last autonomous algorithm working before the first match on Saturday. If things went right, they could score 40 points during autonomous and the end game, and 10 more points during the driver-controlled period, as they had finally mastered the technique of picking up and delivering ‘Stones’.

Everything worked in their first match, but they lost it by one point to an alliance which could stack the ‘Stones’. This match was the first sign that things would be different that day as this was the first team, they had encountered all season who had this capability. Each level in the stack is worth a total of 4 points at the end of the game.

End of match 2 of the semi-finals, demonstrating ‘stacking." The Lobotomists’ Capstone is in yellow, on the blue Foundation, with the 2 robots ‘Parked’ in the Building Site.

Unfortunately, things went downhill after that match was completed. Over the course of the day, 30 matches were held, with each team playing in five matches. Between robot malfunctions and miscommunications with alliance members, the Lobotomists had lost 3 of their first four matches. They were spending a lot of time huddled around the practice field most of the day, as seen below.

From left, clockwise: Rajat Sethi (standing), Andrew Sherburne (sitting in front of him), Wolfgang Buchmaier, Sydney Joseph, Katelynn Thorne, Madeline Robertson, Daniel Coble.

One of the major issues was that the robot wouldn’t ‘strafe’ or move sideways properly. It had Mechanum wheels, controlled by four individual motors, which allowed it to move in any direction, but the speed constants of each wheel had to be tweaked so that the wheels ran at the same speed. They couldn’t seem to find the right combination of numbers, which not only made it difficult to drive, it also played havoc with their autonomous mode, because the code assumed that the robot was moving in straight lines.  

The team finally figured out that one of the wheels wasn’t mounted properly. After a few adjustments, it was finally moving correctly. This fix also helped get the autonomous mode working correctly, and they were able to figure out how to get the distance sensor working so that the robot knew how far to travel when a driver wasn’t controlling it. Finally, everything was working, just in time for their last match of the day (the next-to-last qualifying match of the day). Their alliance handily won it, with one of the highest scores.

After this match is when things started to get interesting for the Lobotomists, they were ranked 17th out of about 25 teams after the 30 qualifying matches, and only the top four teams got to choose their two alliance members to advance to the championship rounds. The Lobotomists had been keeping an eye on things, and knew who they could reach out to, the 3rd place Ground Shakers from Summerville, who they had invited onto their alliance at the Eastern Regionals Tournament. Luckily, the Ground Shakers were receptive to the idea, and the Lobotomists made it to the championship rounds!

The alliance of the Ground Shakers, the Lobotomists, and Falcon Force came up with a good plan for their upcoming matches, pairing together each of the two teams with complementary abilities, Ground Shakers with Falcon Force, and Falcon Force with the Lobotomists.  

Ground Shakers (11214) in gray, Falcon Force (11214) in black, and the Lobotomists (327) in blue.

Each pair of teams won their matches in the semi-finals, against the 2nd ranked alliance of the Cyborg Dragons from Rockhill, ROAM of Rockhill, and the Robo-Zombies of Latta. They won the 2nd match 80-48, with scores in the different periods indicated below. This sounds like an easy win, but there were a few tense minutes as the umpires conferred on the final score. Those of us in the stands were nervous because 25 points were riding on their end game, the results of which you can see in the first photo, and we weren’t sure if they had managed to get credit for everything. But the official score was finally announced, and the team was moving on to the finals.

Sydney Joseph checking out the final score of semi’s match 2. 

The top-seeded alliance, composed of OMS FRED of Clover, Red Legion of Greenville, and Garnet Squadron of Columbia, also won both of their matches in the semi-finals but had a very weak autonomous. With both pairs of teams in our alliance being able to score well in all three periods of a match, things were looking up. The Ground Shakers/Falcon Force duo won the first match 62-35, with the score break-down shown below.

In the 2nd match, Falcon Force and the Lobotomists scored 22 points in autonomous again. However, the OMS FRED alliance managed to score 24. Then, during the driver-controlled period, that back wheel on our robot started giving the team problems again, making it difficult to drive straight. The drive team adapted their driving style to make it work, and kept delivering Stones to the Foundation, and Falcon Force kept stacking them. But then the drive team decided to go for one last Stone with only 30 seconds left in the game, and it was getting harder to get the robot to go straight. The robot made into the back corner with less than a second to spare (5 points), and dumped their Capstone (5 points) onto the Foundation, while Falcon Force had been moving the Foundation out of the corner (15 points), and scoring their Capstone, netting them 30 out of a possible 35 points for the end game. The final score is shown below, and the alliance of the Ground Shakers/Falcon Force/Lobotomists became the Winning Alliance for the FIRST Tech Challenge SC Championship Tournament.

But the day wasn’t over, as FIRST likes to give out numerous awards, and there was stiff competition for all of them. Sydney Joseph had been hard at work bolstering the team’s Outreach efforts, and Son Nguyen had been putting together a ‘piece of art’ for the team’s engineering notebook. The software team of Wolfgang Buchmaier, Rajat Sethi, and Katelynne Turner had improved the robot’s autonomous performance, essentially doubling its capabilities, in conjunction with the mechanical work of Daniel Coble, Madeline Robertson, and Kyle Koon. In the end, the Lobotomists placed 2nd for the Control Award, sponsored by Arm, Inc., which celebrates a team that uses sensors and software to increase the robot’s functionality in the field. This award is given to the team that demonstrates innovative thinking to solve game challenges such as autonomous operation, improving mechanical systems with intelligent control, or using sensors to achieve better results.

As the Lobotomists team was pulling into the parking lot at 11:00 pm on Saturday, well-dressed Govies were also returning from their Valentine’s Day dance. However, it was clear to see that the Lobotomists were proud of their victory and wouldn’t have traded places.

Written by: Dr. Elaine Parshall

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