FRC and FTC robotics teams clash with world's best in Houston

April 28, 2019 — by Jackson Green and Rohan Kumar

It was a moment of high drama for one of the school’s robotics teams on April 20 at the Minute Maid Stadium, holding fields full of robots rather than its usual Major League baseball players. The opposing alliance had already won one game in the best of three series. This was the last chance that the FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) team, the MSET Fish, had to stay in the World Championships at Houston.

The match started out slowly, with the scores climbing, neither alliance pulling ahead by more than 10 points. Even though the Fish were playing against one of the best teams in the world, the Chezy Poofs from Bellarmine, they had a chance to win. Team members sat on the edge of their seats, hoping for a miraculous upset.

But it was not to be.

DeepVision’s robot, one of the Fish’s teammates in its alliance, became disabled and started spinning out of control. The Bellarmine-led alliance began to pull ahead, and soon the game was over. The Fish’s alliance lost 117-104. They were out of the championships once and for all.

The Fish placed in the semifinals of their division during the event that occurred from April 17-20.

The school’s other robotics team, the FIRST Tech Challenge Cuttlefish (FTC), did not make it past qualifiers, but were finalists for the Control Award.

Approximately 40 FRC team members and 10 mentors were sent to Houston. Fourteen of the 15 Cuttlefish team members also traveled to the championships along with 6 chaperones and 2 mentors.

FRC matches are played between two “alliances” composed of three randomly chosen teams, each with their own robot. The alliance that completes tasks to score the most points wins the match.

After the qualifying matches, the Fish, or team 649, placed seventh in the Turing division, one of the six divisions into which the competition was split.

Alliance selection took place next, where the top teams select other teams to join their alliance and compete on the same team in the Finals.

Ultimately, the Fish placed in the fifth seed alliance with team 4165, the Ninjaneers, from Springfield, Ill., and team 7308, DeepVision, from Mountain View High School. The club’s president, senior Bassil Shama, said the team started off slowly during the first two days of the competition. Although the team won most of their matches, the robot did not individually score particularly well, significantly underperforming relative to its peak efficiency. However, the team did eventually perform closer to what they wanted.

“By the last day of eliminations, I think we ended on a good note,” Shama said.

Shama said their placement in the division was expected but could have been better if the divisions had been constructed differently.

“I do think we were fairly unlucky with divisions as it was clear to us and everyone else at the tournament that our division not only had some of the best teams in the world but also had an incredible depth of competition,” Shama said.

Compared to previous years, the team’s performance was stellar. The team’s hardware lead, senior Ankur Garg, said that this was the third time that MSET had made it to the world competition. Their qualification in 2018 “was basically based off of luck,” and when they qualified in 2015 the team was part of an eight-seed alliance that did not make it past quarterfinals.

“This time we made semifinals in the fifth alliance so that was a pretty good spot for us, and then we lost against basically two of the best teams in the world,” Garg said. “I’m pretty happy with that.”

Shama attributes the team’s strong performance to the fact that the club retained a majority of its members from previous years. As a result, the team had many seniors that were able to contribute to the robot.

However, Shama said he is left unsatisfied, partly because he feels that the team could have made it to past the division stage.

“We came really close to competing with the best teams in the world, so to come up short was a bit disappointing especially knowing how close we were,” Shama said.

Californian teams 1323 (MadTown Robotics), 973 (Greybots) and 5026 (Iron Panthers) won the championships.

The robotics team, the Cuttlefish, also attended the World Championships as the first FTC team from SHS to ever go to Houston.

Things got off to a bit of a bumpy start, as their robot mistakenly got sent to a different airport, preventing them from being able to work on it until they finally received it later that night.

During the tournament, the team got off to a slow start, losing multiple matches on the first day due to technical difficulties. On the second and third days, however, the team began winning matches.

“I think we could have done a lot better if the robot just worked,” explained senior Mark Masulis. “Given the circumstances, I think we did really well.”

The team became a finalist in contention for the Control Award, which is given to teams that effectively use sensors and pre-programmed instructions to automate important functions of their robot.

To be considered for the award, the team must complete an application explaining what is so special about their code.

“Even if you have a good auto, if you don't write a legible Control Award Application, the judges won't understand what you're doing,” sophomore Oliver Sun said. “You need to make sure what you write is clear and understandable, and really explains how things work. It's good to include diagrams and code snippets.”

The robotics team is already planning for next year, in hopes of making it even further into the competition.

“I'm a senior, so I'm not going to be here for robotics next year,” Masulis said. “But given the people who are staying, though, I think they have a really good chance of making it to Worlds again, and I wouldn't be surprised if they place much higher next year.”

All in all, the team is proud that they made it to the World Championship.

“Since I joined the team, we always joked, ‘Oh, we're gonna go to Worlds!” Masulis reflected. “At some point, the joke sort of became serious, and we started saying, ‘Hey, I think we can get to Worlds.’ And now we actually did it. It's pretty amazing.”

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