For nearly 2 weeks we’ve watched snowboarders soar, speed skaters fly, and curlers do whatever it is they do.
It’s been a great spectacle — particularly if you enjoy watching sports several hours late on tape delay, even though they are being held on the exact same continent where you live.
But exciting events are not confined to athletics. Five Staples students discovered that last Sunday — in the regional FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition, at Pace University.
All day long the 5 — Haris Durrani, Jehangir Hafiz, Eric Lubin, Todd Lubin and Tim Yang — struggled. They faced — and overcame — a variety of mechanical and technological challenges, and finished the qualifying rounds in 4th place.
In the championship round, “Tank Aaron” — they named their team after the famous baseball player — faced a pair of New Jersey squads. The Westporters’ controllers began to malfunction. In the finals — a best-of-3-games series — they won their 1st game, then lost as the other robots ganged up on theirs.
In the 3rd game of the 3rd match, they had just 2 minutes and 30 seconds to fight their way to the World Championship in Atlanta — or go home. Tank Aaron was virtually scoreless the entire time, as their opponents fought to keep the high-scoring robot from shooting Wiffle balls into scoring areas outside the field.
As the clock hit 15 seconds, Tank Aaron shot from the middle of the field — a risky and seemingly impossible shot. Balls poured into the outfield scoring area for the next 5 seconds. The New Jerseyans were so shocked they forgot to maintain control of their robot, so Tank pushed closer toward the goal.
Even more balls scored in the next 5 seconds. By the final 5, the crowd was on its feet, screaming. Tank Aaron won — and they’re headed to The Big Dance in April.
“It was too close for comfort,” Haris said a couple of days later — still stunned by the finish. The team had met for 7-8 hours a day — sometime until 2 a.m. — every day for the previous week.
Their hard work paid off. They even were named finalists for the Innovate Award for creative and consistent robot design.
Now the real work begins. Tank Aaron plans to improve the robot, from head to toe.
So the 5 robotics team members still won’t have time to watch even a minute of skiing, hockey or — damn it! — curling.
Who cares? Robotics competitions are far tougher.
And more dramatic.