30 April 2018

FIRST Robotics Competition 2018

Our senior robotics team the 'St Cathodes' and our powerful robot 'Rex' have attended the South Pacific Regional of the FIRST Robotics Competition for the second year running. The competition is spread over three days at Sydney Olympic Park, with day one for practice and testing, while days two and three are for the main competition. 

For each match, a team is paired with two other teams forming an 'alliance' and they compete against another alliance of three teams. During days two and three, each team plays a number of qualification matches as part of a randomised alliance, gaining points for their performance. They are then ranked which determines the teams for the finals. 

With the valuable experience and spirit from last year, St Cathodes once again did exceptionally well with the final ranking of 14th among 40 teams in the regional. We were one of the eight alliance captains in the finals, forming an alliance with two other excellent teams from Perth and Taipei.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition is one of the major robotics competitions for high school students in the world, with over 7,000 teams participating around the world. All teams are required to design, program and build an industrial-sized robot under strict rules, within a short time frame. On 6 January, the game rules are released and the clock starts ticking, leaving only six weeks to design, build and test a robot.

This year’s game was called POWER UP. In it, robots collect 'power cubes' which are milk crate-sized cubes and deliver them to three designated areas – the 'switch', the 'scale' and the 'vault'. Each area is at a different height which presents a varied level of complexity in the challenge. The game starts with a 15-second autonomous period where the robot is pre-programmed to perform various actions, followed by two minutes and 15 seconds of teleoperation when it is controlled by one of the team members. Points are gained by placing cubes in the switch or the scale (or both), while cubes in exchange vaults can be traded in to activate 'power-ups' to get additional points.

Our robot Rex features a mechanism of a catapult and an intake system combined: the intake system uses rotating arms attached with wheels to grab the power cubes, which can then be lifted by the catapult and launched on to the switch or into the exchange. Rex is also programmed to be driven by an Xbox game controller, as well as driving a pre-planned path and launching a pre-loaded cube on autonomous. Our design helped us to deliver cubes quite efficiently, especially with the excellent driving skills of our drive team, Sophia and Aurelia. 

The three-day competition brought constant challenges with Rex often needing repairs or maintenance after each match. This included having to re-assemble our intake system, reinsert a gearbox bearing and rebuilding the robot bumpers. All of these challenges come with the added time pressure of a strict schedule for each match with no leeway for delays. With focus and determination, we were able to solve all problems with largely our own effort and a little help from other teams in the competition. This enabled us to compete effectively in every match.