ETHAN PFALTZGRAFF, KVN OPERATIONS MANAGER
The Waverly Shell Rock robotics club is sending two teams to Wapsie Valley on October 26th to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge qualifiers. If they win this competition, they would put themselves on a path that would ultimately lead to the FIRST Tech Challenge world championships in April.
“I’ve always uh, really wanted to go to Worlds, it’s called. It’s basically like, it’s the grand championship where you compete against different robotics teams all throughout the nation,” Nathan Litterer, a competitor with the shell bots, said. “It’s ah… it would cost us quite a bit to travel to Worlds, but to actually compete in it would be quite an honor.”
This will be the club’s third year competing with the Wave Droids team, now 12 members strong. Last year, the creation of a second team called the Shell Bots was necessary due to an increase in interest for the program; they now have 15 members on their team, and will also be competing this year.
“‘The first year was a lot of trial by fire, kind of drinking from a fire hydrant just to understand, ‘what is it we need to do?!’ And I would say that some things are smoother here in year three just because we know what to expect, but it’s still very fluid, so we’re constantly in a state of flux but we do have a better handle on what it is we need to try to get done by when in order to be as successful as possible.”
“I think that we have a lot more structure this year and we have a better idea of what we’re getting into. I really think we’re on track with progress like we have been the past couple of years, so we’re maintaining where we’ve been at. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to tell where each team is at just because each season is so different with the different games and what you have to have prepared for each competition. But I think we’re on our way to doing what we need to do to compete.”
And different they are—previous years have featured challenges inspired by Indiana Jones, and the Mars rovers, while this year’s theme? Is Star Wars. Still, though, the challenges do follow a common formula: a two and a half minute showdown split into two segments.
“The first 30 seconds are what is called Autonomous Mode, so you’ll hear Gaston- or might hear Gaston talking about that a little bit. He’s one of our programmers, and he is really good at making that robot understand, ‘here’s what you need to do in order to score points in autonomous. That means that when our competitors up at the field hit ‘go,’ the robot knows exactly what it needs to do within the field. It needs to travel like, you know, it should pick up a block that has a black square on it and then move so many feet one direction, and so many feet another direction, and set it down in a specific place and therefore score points.”
After the autonomous mode, the teams then go into remote-control mode for the final two minutes, where a team member picks up a controller and guides the robot into doing various tasks.
After the challenges are announced in September, the students meet weekly to work on their ‘bots. The robots are a huge passion project for the students, and take a lot of time to perfect.