Tag Archives: FIRST Tech Challenge

Robotics Team Heads To Worlds — And Helps World

Westport’s i² robotics team is going to the world championship.

That’s great news for the 9 Staples High School students, who designed, built and programmed an actual robot. This year’s challenge involved a mountain rescue. The  i² crew racked up points by forming alliances to reset mountain beacons, deliver mini-rescue climbers to a shelter, and simulate other outdoor-type stuff indoors — robotically, of course.

It’s also good news for anyone who realizes that a good chunk of our global future will depend on men and women who have honed their engineering skills, are inspired to innovate, and can think both logically and creatively.

i2's robot, named "Aether."

i2’s robot, named “Aether.”

We wish the  i² robotics team good luck on April 27-30, when they compete for the First Tech Challenge world title in St. Louis.

But that’s not what this post is about.

One of the mottos of FIRST — the non-profit organization that offers mentor-programs like robotics — is that it’s about more than just robots.

The Westport team has taken that to heart. A major mission is to reach out locally — and further — to teach and support other students, in the areas of STEM (science, technology, education and math).

Earlier this year,  i² helped Bassick High School in Bridgeport form their own team. i² raised $7,000 for the Tech Lions. $3,500 came from Westport’s Sunrise Rotary Club.

The Westporters have met with their nearby counterparts several times, helping them prepare for competitions. It worked: the Tech Lions advanced to the state championships, where they captained the 3rd-place alliance and finished 5th after qualification matches.

i² co-captain Julia Schorr calls the partnership “incredibly rewarding.” And, she says, “we learned a lot from them as well.”

Staples' i2 robotics team and the Bassick Tech Lions, working together.

Staples’ i2 robotics team and the Bassick Tech Lions, working together.

The Westporters also hosted a scrimmage and fundraiser at Staples. They collected over $3,000, plus 4 FIRST Lego League kits. That enabled a Haitian organization to run a championship, and send a team to the FLLL World Festival in St. Louis.

i² and the Haiti group look forward to meeting in St. Louis.

Staples and all of Westport should be inspired by  i². Robotics leaders already are.

At the regional championship in Scranton, Pennsylvania in March,  i² won the Inspire Award. It’s a major honor, given to the team that’s the best role model for others.

And that’s something that no robot could ever do.

The i2 robotics team. They're not usually so serious.

The i2 robotics team. They’re not usually so serious.

(Team members include Ben Davis, Theo Davis, Annie Gau, Joe Montuoro, Greg Preiser, Luke Sauer, Peter Sauer, Julia Schorr and Phoebe Spear. To learn more about the i² robotics team, click here. For a recap of the Connecticut state championship, click below.)

Staples Robots Wreck The Rest

Sports history is rife with teams that came close a few times before winning something huge, like the World Cup or Super Bowl.

Robotics, too.

The Staples High School robotics team — 2nd and 3rd place finishers at the World Robotics Championships 2 years in a row — overpowered all competition last weekend at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

Like the Spanish soccer team, the Wreckers are now world champions.

The world champion Staples robotics team (from left): Alec Solder, Mrinal Kumer, John Solder, Dylan Roncati, Timothy Yang, Erin Gandelman, Haris Durrani.

An energized crowd of 20,000 watched Staples emerge on top, over 3 days of technical and tactical engineering (plus plenty of gamesmanship).  Robots — created by students, of course — are programmed to find hidden objects, and target opponents on a game field.

ARMageddon — the Wrecker robot — inspired awe and struck fear in challengers.

Opponents could do nothing to counter its unique tank-link design, 2-arm defensive system and high-scoring autonomous program.

En route to the finals, ARMageddon destroyed the #1 seed 63-0.  The next matches were closer, but Staples prevailed 39-30, 76-60 and (in a nail-biter, if robots had nails) 54-52.

The Wreckers won the 1st game of the best-of-3 final 119-50 — the highest single-game point competition of the World Championships — and, in the next match, cruised to victory 43-29.

The event — officially called the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship — began last September with 1,600 high school teams, from around the world.  After regional competition, 128 converged on St. Louis.  They were broken into 2 brackets of 64 teams each.

At the end, Staples stood alone.

As with sports, true champions rely on continuity.  Seniors Haris Durrani and Timothy Yang were returnees from the past 2 years’ near-misses.  They kept Staples’ legacy alive, while mentoring 5 new teammates:  junior John Solder, and freshmen Erin Gandelman, Mrinal Kumar, Dylan Roncati and Alec Solder.

The Wreckers’ bench looks deep.  The future looks bright.  Robots around the world are quaking in their animatronic boots.

(Wrecker Robotics sponsors include Lydian Asset Management, Eight Capital, Triple Point Technology and Main Street Resources.)

Wrecker Robots Rule

Brian Williams calls the First Tech Challenge “The Super Bowl of Smarts.” Last year’s FTC world championship opened with an address by Bill Gates. Earlier this year, President Obama attended an FTC regional competition.

Soon the NBC news anchor, Microsoft genius and “education president” may all sing the praises of Staples — at least, the school’s robotics team.

The “Wreckers 577” team obliterated 21 schools from New England, New York and Pennsylvania at last weekend’s tournament at Kingswood Oxford School.  The Wreckers defeated all other teams in their division through 5  challenges, then swept the semifinals and finals.

Even more remarkable:  Though the team was mentored by a pair of Staples students — Haris Durrani and Timothy Yang — they easily defeated much more well-funded teams, including 2 mentored by MIT faculty.

If you’re unfamiliar with robotics tournaments:  Each match of the challenge includes 2 types of play.  Autonomous relies on pre-programmed routines; the other is operator-controlled.

Each team completes various tasks.  This year they — the robots they built, that is — took batons out of a holder; maneuvered across “mountains,” planks and rough terrain to place the batons in cups on casters; and balanced on a plank with casters.

The regional championship qualifies the Wreckers 577 robotics team for the world championship, set for St. Louis in April.  Over 500 teams from 50 countries will compete in the Edward Jone Dome.

Team members include Haris Durrani, Timothy Yang, Alec Solder, Erin Gandelman, Dylan Roncati, Mrinal Kumar and John Solder.  Joshua Schwartz provided value time and insights.  If they and their robots keep rolling, they may soon field a congratulatory phone call from President Obama.

He calls the Super Bowl winners.  He should do the same for the Super Bowl of Smarts.

Take That, Bode Miller!

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.

Tank Aaron (from left): Eric Lubin, Tim Yang, Todd Lubin, Jehangir Hafiz and Haris Durrani.

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.

Tank Aaron (right) beat that poser #3817, with plenty of balls to spare.

“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.