Monday, March 27, 2006


For those of you who have read this blog back to its beginning, you may recall that the blog and our family's foray into robotics all started when my daughter, Dragonfly, got involved with her high school robotics team, which builds a robot for the FIRST robotics competition. Last year Dragonfly was deeply involved in the team, and Mermaldad got only slightly involved, helping the team solve some problems near the end of the build season and cheering for them at the regional competition.

This year we were involved once more, with Dragonfly just as busy and Mermaldad getting a little more involved, although work commitments kept him from being there as much as he'd have liked. Even Wolfbait got involved a little. Since he was still in middle school and thus not officially part of the High School Team, he was named a volunteer and enthusiastically admitted to the build sessions.

One of the things that I really like about FIRST is that it's not only about the robot. Sure, the robot is the most tangible product of the students' effort, but FIRST offers many awards for teams in a variety of areas. The highest award, considered even more prestigious than winning the competition itself is the Chairman's Award. The Chairman's Award goes to the team that "best exemplifies and demonstrates the values that FIRST emphasizes".

The FIRST world revolves around the concept of "gracious professionalism". We compete against the other teams, but they are not our rivals, they are our colleagues, and we treat them with respect and courtesy. Teams are encouraged to help each other out. In fact the structure of the competition, where each round is played 3 on 3, means that the team you played against last round may be the team that you play with the next.

Last year, when we went to our first FIRST Regional Competition, we had a pretty good idea what to expect from the game. What we didn't expect is the enthusiasm of the students. Teams had cheering squads, were dressed in wacky outfits, and brought along mascots. The announcers include a DJ who plays music all day long. It's a lot of fun to watch!

This year our team's robot didn't fare all that well in the standings. At the end of the competition we were ranked in the mid-30s out of 42 teams. This is slightly better than last year's performance, but I believe the robot was a much better machine. Our last 3 matches were plagued by a problem with the controller, something out of the team's control. It was disappointing, but all part of the competition. The really nice thing was that near the end of the competition, one of the sophomore students came to me and the team advisor and said (and I paraphrase), "We ought to divide the team up in two and have our own mini competition using all the parts from the last three years. I think we'll learn a lot from building more. I learned so much more this year, when I had to build stuff myself than last year when the seniors did everything." To me, that's what it's all about.


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