And so another fantastic robotics season comes to an end – maybe. Last year was a learning season for the team, as few of us had any extensive experience and we all learned about FIRST Robotics together, but this year, we knew what we were doing, and we really got a chance to stretch our limbs and show the world what we’re made of (and rock the San Diego Regional with 14th place in the qualifying rounds!). Just because we have experience doesn’t mean we’re not learning, though; we learned how to really apply math this year to ensure that our subsystems had enough power to operate, and we used CAD a lot more than in previous years (almost our entire robot was waterjet-cut). In fact, our shooting and climbing subsystems had so much power they kept breaking themselves! Our shooter bent its steel hex axle when we tried to lift it, and our scissor lifts buckled under the weight of our robot and became bound together We never did have a fully operable robot in the Regional. That’s right: we got 14th place using nothing but our drive train.
The English language is inadequate for several things, and chief among them is describing the level of fun that was to be had at the 2016 San Diego Regional by every team there, including the Top Hats. Of course, that’s not to say it was easy. We nearly didn’t get past inspection, since we forgot about rule R40 (the PDP must be accessible for inspection) when we were designing our electrical system at the last minute. Our PDP wound up hanging upside down! We tried placing a mirror in our battery box: close, but no cigar. We almost had to completely reconfigure our electronics, until we thought of turning the robot on its back. It turns out, that made it just visible enough to count. Whew!
We had two very capable drive teams, and between them, we made every match. We didn’t have a chance to drive the robot even for a minute before our first match, but that didn’t stop our drivers from figuring it out instantly and playing an essential role in our alliance’s victory. We had a big challenge to overcome when trying to make our matches, though: changing bumpers. We had a rather, shall we say, awkward bumper changing system. We used wing bolts to bolt through our chassis frame and into the sides of our bumpers. However, our robot had treads, and the placement of the wing bolts made many of them very hard to reach. And we had a lot of hard-to-reach bolts with our four-piece bumper sets. It was only with FIRST founder Woodie Flowers’ blessing on our robot that we made every match, and won 2/3 of them.
So why is the season ending – maybe? The competition may be over, but we still want to keep learning. We’ve build a robot that we’re all extremely proud to call our own, and now we’re going to make it work as it was intended to work. We will come out of this year with a robot that can do nearly everything on the Stronghold field, and a whole lot more expertise and wisdom. Bag night was our first countdown, but this is our final countdown (da da daa daaaa… da da da da daaaa… thank you, Europe, for improving bag night immeasurably). We’re counting down the hours until we get our robot to work as it was designed, and once it does, we’ll see you at the Battle at the Border!