Robotics Competes at Regionals

Stuyvesant Robotics Teams 310 and 479 competed at the New York City Regionals while Team 694 competed at Palmetto Regionals.

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New York City Regionals—FTC Robotics Teams 310 Stuy Fission and 479 Stuy Fusion

Stuyvesant’s FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Robotics Teams, 310 Stuy Fission and 479 Stuy Fusion, competed at the New York City Regionals at Townsend Harris on March 8. FTC Team 310 won the Inspired 3rd award and qualified for the World Championship for the second time while Team 479 made it to the semifinals.

There are three Robotics teams at Stuyvesant: FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) Team 694 StuyPulse, FTC Team 310 Stuy Fission, and FTC Team 479 Stuy Fusion. The teams are tasked to build robots to participate in challenges designed by FIRST, the organization that hosts the competitions. After the game is announced in January, members face an intense build season for six weeks to construct their robots before their next competition.

At the beginning of each competition, each team gives a presentation, which includes an introduction and an overview of their fundraising, outreach events, and how they connect to their community, to a panel of three judges. The team then discusses the different mechanisms of their robot and how it is linked to the code. From there, the judges choose awards and approach the tables of teams that they are interested in learning more about.

This year, however, Team 310 was called up by the judges earlier than they had anticipated. “We ended up not preparing a lot of the stuff we were going to say, but it worked out eventually because we got Inspired 3rd, which was able to qualify us,” sophomore and Team 310 Head of Engineering Emily Tan said.

The team also faced an issue with their robot before the competition. “We were testing before the actual competition started, and we realized that one of our wheels wasn’t working properly, so we had to scramble to get that done for the competition, but we were able to do that,” freshman Max Schneider said.

Throughout the competition, there were several technical difficulties with the robot. “We had a lot of connection issues with wires and the electronics, so throughout the matches, our robot wouldn’t move. We had to find ways to be compatible [with] other teams. One of the objectives [is] stacking [blocks on top of each other], and our mechanism for that was inconsistent, so we ended up just bringing blocks to other teams so they could stack them instead,” Tan said.

Junior and Team 310 President Megan Gupta-She attributed the problems to the fact that the team had to completely rebuild their robot three weeks prior to the competition. “After our super qualifiers [tournament before regionals], we didn’t do as well in the competition as we had hoped, so we took a day on the Monday during break to discuss what we wanted to do better during the competitions,” Gupta-She said. “It was kind of a rash decision. Our previous design had served us well, but it would not be able to compete at a higher level of competition, so we decided to restart.”

Sophomore and Team 310 Vice President Peter Zhao added that the lack of time available for rebuilding the robot gave less time for the software team to program it. “Giving enough time to software is important [...] because there is a part of the game called the autonomous period, [when] robots only run on pre-programmed instructions,” Zhao said in an e-mail interview. “Because there is no driver-control during this time, we have to spend a lot of time testing and creating different programs for our robot before competition. We ended up finishing our robot just three days before our competition, meaning that our software team only had that amount of time to finish.”

Though there was less time allocated to build the robot, the team was ultimately successful during the competition. “Part of the reason we decided to make this whole change was to create a robot that was more flashy and [had] a good shot [at] getting rewards and having a better robot. We didn’t really have enough time to polish it completely, but acquiring was a lot better; scoring was a lot better,” Gupta-She said.

The team celebrated their success at the New York City Regionals with the Inspired 3rd award. “It was a combination of outreach, mentoring, our robot, and having a well-rounded team. We basically had to do well in every single category to be considered for this award, and that’s what we pulled out,” Gupta-She said.

Meanwhile, Stuyvesant’s FTC Robotics Team 479 spent their weeks prior to the competition working to improve their robot based on issues that arose in their last competition. Though the team did fairly well during the first four rounds of the New York City Regionals, they faced complications with their robot during the last match, which cost them several points. “Our robot disconnected from our controller,” sophomore Jacky Chen said. “[It] basically stopped responding to the controller and stopped moving.”

Senior and Team 479 co-President Michaelangelo Robertson attributed some of their mistakes to the lack of time management. “[It led] to not enough driver practice,” Robertson said. “For this competition, we tried to not make the same mistake, but it still kind of happened, like trying to do too much in engineering and not leaving enough time for the coding and practicing driving, [though] this competition was better than the past.”

Despite this, the team still performed well for the majority of the competition. “How we decided to organize our members at the competition was really good. We had a lot of people [...] on scouting, which is very beneficial because [...] [they are] talking to other teams at the competition [and] looking at matches to see how they are actually doing in matches in order to one: form connections, two: maybe get picked for semifinals and finals,” senior and Team 479 co-President Matthew Chan said.

Chan also emphasized how the team grew stronger from the competitions. “At competition, there’s a lot of stress going around and a lot of pressure. It was a little tense because we knew that at New York City Regionals, that was our one shot to get to World Championships,” he said. “Going through the pressure of competitions before and at Regionals and then not qualifying put us through a lot, but we went through it together, and we emerged, I would say, stronger than before.”

Ultimately, Team 479 made it to the semifinal round of the competition and was nominated for two awards. “We did have two nominations for the Connect Award, which is basically about connecting with the community and spreading the values of FIRST,” Chan said. “The other award was the Innovative Award, which is for the design and build of your robot and how innovative or creative it is.”

Many members were thrilled with the team’s success and felt that it was a step closer to the World Championship. “It’s definitely an improvement from any of the other years. In the past, our team 479 has never qualified for World Championships,” Chan said. “We’ve consistently been able to get to New York Regional Championships, but I think this time we were the closest we’ve ever been to World Championships, and I think that’s really good.”

Faculty advisor Joseph Blay was proud of the teams for their performance this season. “Making it to that stage in the competition is a tremendous achievement,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Both teams had ups and downs during the tough competition, but in the end, 479 made semis, which means they had one of the strongest bots in our region. And 310 qualified for the World Championship, not because of robot performance, but [because of] an award that they won as a result of their contribution to the community, which in my opinion is more important than robot performance.”

The World Championship was set to be on April 29 in Detroit, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Though many are disappointed about the cancellation, the team is making the best of the situation and is preparing for the next season. “When we heard that it was cancelled this year due to the recent events regarding COVID-19, we were dismayed that we weren't able to meet the top teams from around the world and learn from their unique designs,” Zhao said. “However, in light of this situation, not advancing has given us more time for reflection and focusing our resources [on] improving ourselves for the next season.”

For the rest of the year, the team plans to work with the less experienced members of the team. Depending on the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, the team has also decided to learn computer-aided design (CAD). “Especially in this time during the virus, where we can't meet up at school, we've decided to spend our time learning CAD to design our robot through software before building, allowing us to further streamline our design and engineering process for next season,” Zhao said. “CAD allows us to prototype and design mechanisms such as the drivetrain of our robot.”

Overall, Gupta-She is optimistic about the team’s potential. “Getting to the World Championships this year took a lot of hard work, but it wasn’t our goal in the very beginning, so we are super grateful to get this far in [the] competition but also we are not disappointed at all,” she said. “This gives us time to settle down and refocus and keep on working to this goal of having a super sustainable team where we don’t keep on losing members and keep on rebuilding.”

Palmetto Regional—FRC Team 694 StuyPulse

Team StuyPulse 694 recently competed at the Palmetto Regional at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where they went undefeated and won the entire competition. They also won the Innovation in Control Award, which is specifically for software.

StuyPulse 694 is the largest of the three teams, with around 100 members split into three different departments: Engineering, Software Engineering, and Marketing. FRC competitions typically have around 50 to 60 teams, are three days long, and are slightly different from FTC competitions. “During the start of both competitions, teams are randomly paired with other teams at the competition. Based on how well you perform you get ranked. The top ranked teams get to pick their alliance partners,” Blay said. “In FRC, eight alliances of three teams each get formed, and in FTC, four alliances of three teams each [get] formed (since it is two on two, there is a rotation amongst the three teams). The alliances play in a bracket-style tournament. Each round is best two out of three matches.”

The team faced a few difficulties as the competition progressed. In the first match, the team had to search for a broken connection after their robot’s wire unplugged. “We always have mechanical challenges because sometimes, things in our robot will break before matches, so it's always like we have crunchtime in between matches [when] you have to fix up the robot and get things going for the preparation of the next match,” senior and Team 694 President of Software and Engineering Pratham Rawat said.

In addition, the team had to adjust their code to the competition’s arena. “We had to tune our computer vision a little bit because it was missing slightly during the match due to inconsistencies with the field that they had set up and the field that we had set up at Stuy,” Rawat said.

Despite these complications, the team still performed well throughout the competition. “Other than that, things went pretty smoothly. Sometimes we had to replace some wires here and there. We had some errors with our motors at some times. For the most part, those things got resolved pretty quickly,” Rawat said.

Blay was thrilled at Team 694’s performance at the competition. “I was beaming with pride; the kids did an incredible job in their preparation for the event and in their performance and response to adversity at the event. Their record was perfect, but so was their performance,” he said.

Similar to the cancellations of the World Championship for FTC, the rest of Team 694’s competitions have been cancelled due to COVID-19. “As of right now, the season has been indefinitely postponed. All of our competitions we had signed up for have been cancelled, which is unfortunate because we were excited to go, and [...] we did spend money registering for them,” Rawat said.

Blay also expressed his disappointment regarding the cancellation. “This is the toughest thing I've had to deal with as a mentor, educator, or coach,” Blay said. “All of these events had to be cancelled; the safety of students, faculty, volunteers, and their families is the most important thing. But none of that makes my seniors feel much better. They've worked so hard. Many of them have been doing robotics for four years; they made a great robot; they put in countless hours, and then in the blink of an eye, it's all over.”

The team, however, remains optimistic and hopes that the COVID-19 situation will improve so that they can participate in off-season events. The seniors plan to pass on their knowledge to the rest of their team. “What we wanted to do, looking forward, [is] kind of pass on any skills that we as seniors have onto our later members,” Rawat said.

In the future, the team hopes to improve itself while cooperating with other teams around the world. “We are very lucky. We have a lot of resources, a lot of terrific mentors, and a great group of kids. There are lots of little things we can improve on in every aspect of our team, but I think that personally, I want to see our teams help other teams more,” Blay said. “Once our new lab is operational, I want to have other teams come and visit, do workshops for them, [and] practice with them. I want us to publicize our robot CAD and do daily blogs explaining to other teams around the world what we are working on.”

Despite the unfortunate end of the season, Blay is optimistic about the skills that members garnered from participating on the team. “The silver lining is that the skills they learned from making these robots that they didn't get to finish this season with are still all there. The robot is just the vehicle for learning. Though I am devastated and so are my students, that learning has already happened, and they will be able to walk away with that,” Blay said.

Rawat emphasized one of FIRST’s mottos that highlights the team’s spirit. “It’s more than robots. What we do isn’t just a competition where we build these expensive robots to shoot hoops. It's an outreach experience. It’s an experience where we find community and come together to do really cool things and learn from each other,” Rawat said.