First Robotics a winner

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I have become involved with First Robotics, and specifically with Team 172, Northern Force based in Gorham and Falmouth, Maine.

My oldest son, Arthur, is participating on the programming team, and I have become the rules maven. I get to read and interpret the rules for the team. The rules have revisions as a result of inquiries from teams after the rules are released, so I get to keep on top of these as they become available.

The competition isn't just about building a robot, though. It's about working together to solve a technical problem, then taking that solution to the competition. During the competition, the team must now solve the competitive problem through cooperation with other teams, an idea I find fascinating. Founder Dean Kamen has made it clear that competition and cooperation are fundamental to success in this program. Having some life experience behind me, I can say that this ideal is used in business on a daily basis. Traditional sports often celebrate individual achievement. In First Robotics, a competent robot that isn't a team player will be left behind very quickly.

Teams must form alliances that capitalize on the strengths of each robot. Robots are designed with specific functions in mind: they could be defenders, scoring assistants, or scoring specialists. They can also be generalists that can play anywhere on the field, but, as in real industrial design, that kind of robot is often difficult to build.

The arena is divided into three areas separated by a carpeted hump. The humps have tunnels in them, though, that short robots can pass through. The game involves putting balls into goals, much like soccer. The balls, once scored, must be returned to the playing field by a human player. During the game, balls must move from the area furthest from the goal to the goal, and must travel across the humps. Carrying isn't allowed, so the robots must kick!

There are also big targets over the goals, and the robots have "eyes," in the form of video cameras that interface with the control software. AJ, on the software team, is learning a lot about control systems and also about pattern recognition. Another interesting part of the competition is that during the first 15 seconds of each match, the robots must operate without human drivers. The software team has some pretty interesting challenges, between vision processing, automated operation, and controlling the rest of the normal motion, kicking, and other tasks.

Take a look at the game concept video provided by First for a better idea of how the game works.

I can't say what strategy Northern Force will take this year, as I haven't been to any of the design sessions. I do know, though, that they have been hard at work on this year's challenge.

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This page contains a single entry by James Lockman published on January 24, 2010 4:45 PM.

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