Exams were over and sleep was within reach… well, perhaps on the bus. Thursday morning, the very next morning after exams, the Iron Eagles high school teams showed up to Brentwood Academy at the early hour of 6:30 to load the bus. Half an hour later the charter bus was packed tight full of suitcases, 5 robots, assorted parts, and about 25 high schoolers. We embarked on our 15 hour bus ride to Houston, Texas.
On Friday, we got to visit the Johnson Space Center. We took a tram tour and saw rockets, the original control center, and a replica of the international space station. We had a couple hours to explore the center after that. There were cool exhibits on different space missions and a piece of the moon you could touch (this has to be the germiest rock on the planet.) There was a replica of the inside of a rocket we could walk through. Overall, it was a very cool experience. Friday evening, we all headed to the movies to see the newest Star Wars installation, The Last Jedi. After a full day of space fun, we checked on our robot, completed a few last minute tasks, and headed to bed to get a full night’s rest before the tournament the next day.
The tournament took place at Robert Shaw STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) Center. This center was for six schools in the surrounding area to use for their students. Each of the six schools has their own big classroom and a smaller connected workroom all built around an open room with a large screen on one wall. For the tournament, a few of these classrooms were open as an area for the visiting teams to setup and hangout in. The day went by pretty swiftly. When it came time for the top 8 alliance selections, Brentwood Academy teams tried to ally with other teams but they seemed to want to ally with other texan teams. So, Iron Eagles teams 9364A, 9364B, and 9364C allied together. We were all fairly highly ranked. We made it through quarterfinals but lost in semifinals.
At the end of the day, Iron Eagles team 9364C walked away with excellence award, team 9364A won design award, and team 9364D won judges award. We did better than expected at this tournament. Overall, the trip was a lot of fun. We got to spend time with teammates, saw a rocket, and learned what we need to improve before our next competition in January.
It was Friday night and the stage was set. Well, not quite. Wires were all over the gym and the fields were pieced together. Soon-to-be judges surveyed the area, and parents and team members flurried around trying to complete a myriad of tasks that had to be done before we all arrive early the next morning. We had our robot checked and passed inspection. At the end of the night, the three fields were together, colored lights illuminated the dark gym, and all the wires were under tape running along the edge of the gym.
Bright and early Saturday morning, teams were unloading their robots and bringing them to inspection. Many people came in costumes; I saw an entire team dressed as Mario characters. Each school was assigned to a room around the seventh grade den to have during the day to fix their robot and meet as a team.
Over 40 teams were ready to compete. Qualification rounds ran from 10 until 3. There were robots of all types, everything between clawbots to scissor bots to reverse-4 bar robots. It is cool to see how such different designs work to accomplish the same goal. One of the best parts about the first few tournaments of each season is learning what other teams choose to focus their time on, such as moving mobile goals to the the higher-scoring zones or building the highest stacks of cones. Once we’ve realized the most important and beneficial game strategy, getting the highest score is easy. However, you are always placed with and against different teams for each of the qualification matches, so deciding how to outsmart an opponent’s game plan can be a challenge.
At the end of the matches, each team was ranked. My team, 9364A, was ranked eighth. The top eight teams pick alliances and then compete in semifinals. We were selected by the second ranked team (Brentwood Academy team 9364Y) and competed with them. Unfortunately, our alliance lost during semifinals. Overall, Brentwood Academy teams 9364B, 9364C, and a Chattanooga team became the tournament champions. Both High School and Middle School Excellence awards were won by Brentwood Academy Iron Eagles teams, too.
The Halloween tournament has been one of the most fun tournaments I have attended. It served as a great start to the season and I think all the teams there enjoyed it. Even though my team did not walk away with an award, it was a lot of fun and we learned what we can improve for our next tournament in Memphis this weekend. For now, it’s back to the robot room for more brainstorming, adjustments, testing, and redesign.
“Where’s the wrench?” I wonder as I survey the surrounding area; c-channels, screws, locknuts, and other miscellaneous parts are scattered across every open workspace. I spot it tucked behind the notebook. The shrill sound of the saw cutting metal, which used to make me jumpy and distracted, has blurred into the background at this point. When we first joined robotics last year, we were completely lost. It was all very interesting, but we could identify maybe two tools. We encountered many challenges at first, such as how to wire the robot and the differences between motors. However, we were lucky to have patient teammates to help us along the way.
Currently, it is October, and we are assembling our first robot after hours of building and meticulous testing. Normally, three to five robots are built each season to best accomplish the challenge. We are going to finish soon so we can practice for the Halloween Tournament BA is hosting on October 27 and 28. There will be 34 or more teams, a competitive costume contest, and spooky music. A few team members spent a couple of Saturdays painting the Addams family that we are going to cut the faces out of so you can take a picture with your face through the hole.
The week before the tournament is always my favorite part. Last-minute scrambling to adjust mistakes in programming, tighten all the loosened parts, and perfect the notebook are just some of the requirements for tournament preparation. Then the tournament comes, and every team plans their day down to the minute: first match is at 9, followed by a chance to head to the skills field, and before you know it, the tournament starts at 2. Personally, one of my favorite parts is collaborating with other teams for alliance selection. At last year’s State Competition, no one was certain how the selection would turn out. Teams had second, third, even fourth picks in case something went wrong. Everyone stays up late the night before combining and evaluating notes on others to choose the best option. Once alliances are set, teams fight with utmost determination to gain that spot in the final match. Students are running across the room with replacement batteries and parts. Excitement in the crowd increases exponentially, everyone’s eyes focus on the four robots planted on the field. After only a couple of minutes, the winner is determined, and the room goes wild. Hopefully, that will be an Iron Eagles team at the upcoming Halloween Tournament this month. We are working hard to finish our robots and programs so that we might have a shot at that final match.