April 29, 2023

By Jim Dietz

Announcer: “Drivers, behind the white line. In 3, 2, 1 Go!”

And just like that six robots, three with red bumpers and three with blue start moving on their own to a set of individual pre-programmed commands. Students who programmed the robot are thinking, “I hope the program runs correctly.” Those who built the robot, “I hope nothing breaks.” Scouts in the audience, “Did that other team really just score that.” Drive team, “Get ready.” Ding, Ding, Ding.

And just like that 15 seconds has passed and now for the next two minutes and 15 seconds the drive team takes control and is focusing on steering their robot around other robots, obstacles and scoring points. One person is running back and forth between the three teams yelling strategy or working with others on where to go. Others are frantically signaling to the “human player” at the other end of the field what piece they need next. Team members in the stands are yelling and cheering on their alliance while members of the strategy team are feverishly recording what the other teams are doing.

A loud horn rings out. Only 30 seconds left! What is the score? Do I have time to get another point? Why did my alliance member just block me? We all need to get balanced on the charging station! And another horn. Just like that the match is over. Students rush to load up their robot and get it to the pits so the mechanical and electrical teams can quickly assess any damage and get the robots ready for the next match. While the drive team searches out their next alliance partners to discuss strategy. Even though they might have just competed against them in the last match.

This is all part of a FIRST Robotics competition, “The ultimate sport for the mind.” High school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” The goal is to make it to the World Championships and Einstein Field. Over 600 teams out of 3,200 teams worldwide compete on eight fields that span almost a third of a mile at the George R Brown convention center in Houston, TX. First you have to design, fund, build, and program a robot and then be on a winning alliance at one of the 174 regionals around the World. And then you have to fundraise more to cover all the costs of the travel, hotel and food.

All three Lee’s Summit teams have been hard at work to qualify and then compete at the World Championships. The level of competition at World’s is much higher than at the Regionals. And all three teams brought their A game to compete.

Driven was on the Johnson field and ended up as the number two alliance captain in the finals out of 78 teams. This year the finals are double elimination format. Unfortunately, Driven had radio issues and were unable to move for 30 seconds in the last match before finals. This allowed the other alliance to pull ahead and advance to the finals.

The Broncobots and Titanium were both on the Hopper field. This was a very strong group of 77 teams. After qualification Titanium was ranked tenth and was picked on the fourth alliance and Broncobots were 12th and ended up on the sixth alliance. Titanium eliminated the Broncobots in the ninth match and then Titanium was eliminated in the 12th match.

The winning alliance from each field then goes on to compete on what is called Einstein field. Just to make it to Einstein is a feat that not many teams achieve. And now each team has returned home. They are busy packing up shops as their new robotics spaces are being built. Watch for an upcoming article highlighting their new build spaces on each campus. They will be having banquets awarding Letters and celebrating their year. And they will be preparing for summer camps to help teach robotics and stem for younger kids in the Lee’s Summit and surrounding area.

Congratulations to all three teams on a great season.