A first-place finish in Windsor over the weekend means the Elmira District Secondary School FIRST robotics team is off to the Ontario District Championship.
They and their robot – Sir Lancerbot – will compete at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga from Apr. 12-15.
They competed at the University of Waterloo two weeks ago and they made it to the semi-finals out of 28 teams. The team that knocked them out ended up winning the whole competition. They think if they had a different draw they might have been able to win that one too.
“I always say there’s an element of luck involved a little bit because it depends who you’re matched up with,” said Ron Fletcher, one of the team’s four coaches, about the alliance aspect of the competition.
The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) model in Ontario also recently changed.
It used to be if they won a regional competition, like they did in Windsor, they would be automatically in the worlds competition in St. Louis. But now because there are so many teams in Ontario – close to 200 – the top 60 teams go on to the district championship, to determine who goes on to worlds.
“There are a number of very good teams in Waterloo Region and I expect that they’re going to be there. From that 60, the top 28 will go on to worlds,” Fletcher said.
Matthew Murray notes they’ve been to worlds before. In 2014 they received the rookie all-star award which sent them to worlds. At worlds, they received the rookie all-star award again, as well as all awards available to a rookie team.
“That was a pretty big deal to win it at worlds,” Fletcher said.
Their robot is the result of some 30 students on the team, who worked on everything from design, to software, to securing sponsors.
Right now their robot is in a sealed bag. They have a limited number of hours they’re allowed to spend fixing up the robot for the district championship.
“We weren’t completely happy with the way our robot was running at the beginning of the match, and it has to drive itself. So we’re going to work on tuning that a bit better on our way to the next competition so we can do better,” said Carson Cass.
Jacob Fralic explains at the beginning of the competition in Windsor, it was up in the air of how they’d do. Sometimes the unexpected can happen, things you can’t prepare for.
“But as the competition went on and we saw how well we were performing and the strength that the other teams had we thought we had a pretty good chance of winning. And then it got really cemented when we got into an alliance with team 610 for the final round, which was another really strong team,” Fralic said.
Fletcher says the unpredictability aspect of the competition is a good life lesson for the students as well. Instead of saying the robot will do this or that, they say they hope it will be able to perform certain functions.
“Often we’d say we hope to do this and we think we can do this. But at the end of the day, machines are fallible. Somebody runs into you and inadvertently somehow a breaker gets pushed and we lose power at the end of the match and we’re stuck, we’re done, and who can explain that or who could foresee that? And so there is an element of learning even I find like where you are in a situation where you can’t just say we’re going to do this or the robot’s going to do this,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher explains a situation that they couldn’t prepare for actually did happen to them when they got hung up on another team’s robot.
“We literally burned through a set of tires. And the build crew had this crazy – it felt like NASCAR – where we had to do this pit stop, we had to change tires and the thing’s back to the pit and bodies are everywhere and the wrenches are out and there’s only so much room and Jacob’s being thrown out of the pit, so there’s this crazy chaos that happens, high pressure in a way,” Fletcher said.
Competition is much more intense than you might expect seeing as it’s based around robots. Fletcher remembers a couple years ago one of the students’ mom said she’d never cheered so loud and been so invested in a piece of machinery.
“It’s a very electric atmosphere, extremely satisfying, sometimes extremely stressful and it does teach again how to respond in a pressure situation,” Fletcher said.
He adds a big part of what FIRST wants to do is teach students to be global citizens. The EDSS robotics team is involved with the Kiwanis food drive every year, for example. They’ve also been able to learn from a variety of local businesses and industry experts.
“It also brings business in the community into the school. So you’ve got about 20 different mentors from software to design to parents come in and help these guys build bumpers. It really brings the community into the school as well,” Fletcher said.
Aaron Crawford is the driver of the team’s robot and says he enjoys working hard to help the team perform well.
“It’s a lot of fun, it’s very rewarding and you learn great new skills with communicating with other teams,” Crawford said.
The students agree if they continue to perform as well as they did in Windsor, there’s a good chance they’ll make it to worlds.
“It was very rewarding for me as a coach, and I think for many on the team, to get that win that you know you’ve worked hard for, and you reach that level of success. I think it also puts the team a little bit on the radar too within the FIRST community,” said Fletcher