Robotics team wins qualifier, advance to regionals

January 31, 2022 — by Atrey Desai and Martin Xu
The drivers of the MSET Cuttlefish team (left) in one of the qualification matches
Despite technical and non-technical challenges, the MSET Cuttlefish came together to win the Sacramento qualifying tournament’s robot game and Inspire Award.

The day before their competition on Dec. 10 at Rosemont High School in Sacramento, everything went wrong for the MSET Cuttlefish, the Mechanical Science and Engineering Team’s veteran FTC team: The servos controlling the extension and retraction of the robot’s intake snapped, sending the team’s hardware team scrambling for a solution.

“We ended up zip-tying the intake and hoping for the best,” senior hardware member and club secretary Gavin Chang said. 

On the non-technical side, the team was also falling behind. Accompanying every robot at competitions is an engineering notebook, which describes the design process to create the robot, and a poster board that displays key aspects of the robot and outreach initiative to judges at the competition. 

“We didn’t assemble the poster until the night before the competition in the hotel room; the notebook was also completed in crunch time which was detrimental to the overall look and feel,”  said junior Trevor Leung, a management lead.

Despite several hurdles, the 14 out of 15 members that took the trip to Sacramento became confident in the preliminary rounds as they went 4-1 and became the third seed — automatically qualifying for the semifinal round out of 14 teams competing in the tournament. 

Due to the precise control of the robot as the drivers demonstrated their fast cycling times, or the time it takes the robot to score the scoring elements, in the preliminary rounds, the first seed team, team 11039 Innov8rz from Fremont, proceeded to select the Cuttlefish as their first alliance partner during the semifinal round. Together, the teams passed through the round with a  2-0 record to reach the finals.

In the finals, the Cuttlefish were once again uncertain how they would fare after losing their first match due to internal autonomous difficulties. 

“Expectations were very low going into the last two matches,” Leung said.

Despite the odds, however, the three-team alliance survived their one-match deficit and came back to defeat their opponents 2-1 in the finals, winning the Sacramento Qualifier. 

As playoffs wrapped up and the award ceremony began, anticipation grew for the Cuttlefish. 

As the first pick of the tournament’s winning alliance, the team fell just underneath the threshold for continuing into regional qualifiers. To advance through the competition, they needed to win the tournament as the alliance captain — not just first-pick.

Missing the cut, the team’s only chance to qualify to regionals was through winning the Inspire Award, given to a team who displayed strong tournament performance, documentation and outreach. The energy within the team began to grow as the announcers began cracking fish-related jokes, an overt hint toward the team’s mascot and namesake. 

“And the winner of the Inspire Award is…,” the announcer declared.  “MSET Cuttlefish.” 

Cheers erupted as the team jumped off the bleachers celebrating their achievement. 

As the team shifts their focus to regionals, they intend to rebuild the robot to fix technical issues and improve their project management structure to firmly stick to deadlines. They also plan to consult with veteran team mentor Anh-Quan Nguyen and their technical mentors Bob and Ivan France, a father-son duo.

Even with their setbacks, both Leung and Chang felt that the team learned a lot at the tournament and left with memories to cherish. 

“Everyone was just united,” said Leung. “No hoping. No praying. We really did it and we did it as a team.”

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