Archive for the 'Picture' Category

Firebears 2846

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

A few weeks ago my son participated in the culmination of what may be the ultimate uber-geek high school extracurricular activity: Robotics Club. I mean seriously, the D&D group has nothing on a bunch of kids who design, program and build robots, I think. It’s so cool — I really enjoy that he has this kind of mind.

After months of having him go off to Robotics in the evening the day finally approached for the final competition. He had been uncommunicative in a teenaged way about what the whole project was about so his grandfather and I went to the event not knowing quite what to expect. Quite frankly I feared it would be very boring, enough that I stuffed a paperback book into my jacket pocket to keep myself occupied while nominally showing support for the group’s endeavors into mechanization.

I could not have been more wrong! Dad and I were there for over four hours and the time flew, it was so engrossing. I never quite figured out all of the arcane rules but basically each round worked like this:

  • There were two coalitions competing in each round, Red and Blue Alliances. Each alliance was made of three high school teams, each of which received team points which accumulated to advance themselves in the standings.
  • The three teams on each side had to cooperate to gain the most points for the Red or Blue side.
  • Each team’s robot dragged a bin around behind it. Points were gained by dumping balls into the other alliance’s bins.
  • The robots themselves were of three main types: pushers, dumpers, or throwers. The first would push the balls around so others could pick them up; the second would do the gathering and dump them in the opposite side’s bins; and the throwers pitched the balls around the field for the first two types.
  • When the first whistle blew the robots had a couple seconds of pre-programmed action before stopping dead in their tracks. During this period there were team members on each end and one Red and one Blue person on each side who could chuck as many balls possible into the opponents’ bins.
  • When the second whistle blew the robots came alive again. Each high school team had a member who rushed up to his or her robot’s controls and began to drive the thing around, doing its particular function and trying to avoid having balls placed in its trailer. This part was hilarious, honestly, with the robots dashing or bumbling around, depending on how crowded its part of the field was and how adept its controller.
  • After several minutes a third whistle blew and extra-credit balls were available to be tossed into the oppositions bins. Most of these throws did not hit home, although at least one match had a complete overturn thanks to the high credit balls.
  • When the final whistle blew action stopped and referees reviewed the action to delete penalty points for the final totals.
  • During the final competition the round was repeated for each Red vs Blue with the best two-out-of-three team advancing to the next rounds.

As I said, this was all a combination of fascination and hilarity and the time flew by. My boy’s team had done an excellent job during the morning rounds, winding up 6th out of 50+ teams in their standings. This was an amazing result for a first year team.

In the afternoon the action was intense. In the semifinals the Blue alliance that included the Firebears was tied 1:1 and pulled off a late high-scoring ball dump (heh, that sounds so weird) to advance to the finals. And then! yay! their coalition won the finals matches! It was amazing and fun and very rewarding for the team and my son. Yay!

Introducing the awards presentation, Dr. Woodie Flowers of MIT made a speech about the value of cooperative competition and his concept of “gracious professionalism” which I felt were excellent to the group of students. He pointed out that a Robotics competition such as this was one way to open students’ minds to the strength and potential of cooperative problem-solving and was, I felt, an inspiring speaker. Each group of the final four coalitions received medals as well as having a number of special awards given for design, good sportsmanship, et cetera. It was an uplifting way to end a long day for the kids, and made me happy that my boy had become involved with this activity.

This post has turned out much longer than I expected, as I started typing with the intention of providing context for the movie below, which is, I believe, the crucial 2nd round of the semi-finals. The local school’s robot begins on the lower right, and has a red stripe with FIREBEARS 2846 across the bottom. It’ll give you a sense of the atmosphere during the competition.


What a goofy thing to do! I am so proud of all of them.


The Firebears