Robotics Competition a F.I.R.S.T. for School


Victor Lam, News Editor

Last month, more than a dozen students achieved a Rio Americano first. On the twenty-first of March, students from John Agostinelli’s Robotics class convened at the UC Davis Pavilion for the Sacramento Regional FIRST Robotics competition. For the first time Rio was able to experience the radical mechanical competition of high school teams.

Since 1992, the FIRST Robotics competitions have allowed high school students from throughout the region and across the country, to prove their technological prowess through a series of tests and obstacles. This year, a team of Rio students was allowed six weeks to design and construct a robot deft enough to beat all the others from 53 high schools.

Over the March 21 weekend, one thousand high school students partitioned their robots off into 3-team alliances to participate in the FRC’s unifying ideal of “Coopertition”. The concept lies in behaving maturely, being respectful of other teams, and creating robots capable of cooperating alongside each other. The competition which has been termed the “varsity sport for the mind” combines the excitement and comradeship of sport with the rigors of science and technology.

Three years ago, the competition consisted of machines playing soccer. Two years ago, the robots had to collect plastic tubes and place them on pegs a couple yards off the ground as rapidly as their metal appendages could allow them. Last year, robots learned to hoop. This year, instead of playing basketball, the robots reached new heights as they sought to climb pillars as well as to grab and chuck discs in “The Ultimate Ascent”.

”The job of the robot was to scale a tower and get Frisbees into a basket. And it did, well, OK. Pretty Much,” said Senior Elizabeth Meyer.

The young engineers completed the project in 6 weeks, working independently of outside help, other than the instructional guidance of their advisor. “Mr Agostinelli showed us how to use tools, but we did all the work,” said senior Elizabeth Meyer.

The Rio team was able to come together right now through their Robotics class. There, the students learned to program computers, draft designs, and complete electrical circuits.

“We were really good at working together. We were really efficient,” Meyer said of the team effort. “In the workplace, you have the AP students and the regular auto shop students, and you have to work with everyone. But through our diversity, we got to know a lot of people better. This was one of the best experiences I have had in school.

On the day of the competition, Team Rio was set back by various technical difficulties.

“We did pretty well for a first-year team,” said senior Tylor Reeves. “We went into it knowing that we weren’t going to do that well.” The Rio underdogs were self-sufficient and “didn’t have a lot of help while other teams had a lot of help from parents and engineers”.

“We were off by a few inches so we had to take the robot apart and cut two inches from the inside and then put it back together so it would still work,” said Meyer. Because of the on-the-spot fixes the team had no practice rounds. ”We also had issues with our coding and we realized that a few parts weren’t going to work so we dropped those too.”

In spite of the unfortunate circumstances, the team viewed their situation with prudence.

“We [got to] have the experience of learning about what it was like in real life where we had a problem and we had to solve it,” said Reeves.

Meyer agrees, “We had to get things done fast. People had to figure out what needed doing and then coordinate. We finally got it working….[and] Got in for round three!”

Team Rio’s students worked not only with their fellow students, but also with other teams from the bay area, Davis, and Sacramento. “We talked with other teams about strategy and formed alliances for the rounds,”

Although Rio was not able to take first place in the Ultimate Ascent, the first-year robotics class gained valuable experience towards careers in engineering and imaginative designs for next year.

“The job of the Rio students, who built the school’s first entry into the FIRST robotics competition, was to learn a lot, work together and have fun,” said Agostinelli. “And they did, by all accounts, great. Definitely great.

As with their robot, the Rio FRC team aims to maneuver and troubleshoot their coming competitions by trial and error.