For local high school students trying to build competition ready robots for the upcoming FIRST Robotics Competition season, the middle of February can be a stressful time as the final few days of their six-week build season run out.
Members of SWARM, the combined robotics team for South and West Albany high schools, for example, said they are meeting seven days a week and meetings on weekdays are typically four hours, with weekend meetings going even longer.
Yet many mid-valley robotics teams took a break from the grind of build season Saturday to actually test their robots in a practice scrimmage event hosted by Corvallis High School. Parents of the CHS team built a practice field that matches the one used for this year’s game: a competition where two teams of three robots try to collect cubes and score points for placing them in certain areas of the game field, such as a giant scale in the center of the field.
Organizers of the scrimmage say around 30 schools planned to attend, but not all made it. Crescent Valley High School’s robotics team passed on the event to focus on building their robot, and Lebanon’s team only sent scouts to check out how the game went. Teams that did make it, like SWARM, CHS and Philomath High School, spent the day playing practice matches and tuning up their robots.
Tevan Chinsangaram, co-captain of the CHS team, said the event had as many teams participating as a regular season event. Chinsangaram, a senior, said CHS actually had more teams interested in scrimmaging than the school had room for in its pit area.
“We’re pretty happy with that,” he said. "We’re excited to share this opportunity.”
Chinsangaram said CHS has been hosting the scrimmage annually since 2015 and it tends to get a bit bigger each year. However, he said this year more teams than usual didn’t actually make it to the scrimmage because this year’s game is particularly challenging.
“The biggest challenge we’ve had is that we need to lift the cubes up pretty high, and the elevator (mechanism) that lifts them has to go up pretty high and be stable,” he said.
Melissa Smith, a West Albany High School junior and the project manager for SWARM, said the team attends the scrimmage because they get to identify problems before they actually are in a real competition.
“It’s a great way to get a feel for what the competition is like without being in competition,” she said. “It gets all the bugs out.”
Joshua Richardson, a fellow West Albany junior doing mechanical design for SWARM, said the team also gets a chance to befriend other teams, who they might be paired with in competitive play.
Since FIRST, which runs the competitions, encourages teams to be very cooperative each other, Smith said students will often give advice about how to improve other teams robots, not worrying about the fact they may have to face each other later.
Smith said the competition is fun and teaches participants engineering, fund raising, professionalism, time management and networking.
“Somehow I manage to do homework too,” Smith said.
Richardson said he loves the challenge of building a 150-pound robot in six weeks.
“I’ve always loved building and designing things, so this opportunity is great,” he said.
Wednesday marks the end of the build season for the robotics teams, and competition starts in March. For information about upcoming robotics competitions, visit the Oregon Robotics Tournament & Outreach Program at ortop.org.