The Autonomous Hour

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        After spending an intense six weeks working on the most complex robot Forest Hill has ever seen, it was finally time for our robotics competition at York University. This year’s robot was equipped with a pneumatic (pressurized air-based) intake system and conveyor belt to play in the FIRST robotics competition. Our game strategy was to be a quick, nimble, low-profile robot that could perform its task with consistency and efficiency.

        As we passed inspection and tested our primary mechanisms, we knew it was time for our first match. It began with an unfortunate start, as our robot’s pre-written code did not execute as intended in the autonomous phase of the game. Nevertheless, with a bit of luck, we managed to get through this portion of the match unscathed. When the tele-op phase of the match began, our driver rushed to grab the Xbox controller to manually command our robot to pick up cubes and put them in the necessary locations. The first couple of cubes were successfully placed without much difficulty, but after those, we found ourselves unable able to pick them up anymore. From the driver’s station, we could not tell what was wrong with the robot. We kept trying to pick up cubes and failed each and every time. We lost our first match by a substantial margin, but this was not of much importance compared to the fact that a piece of metal on the robot’s intake was bent. Quickly rushing back to our pit, we replaced the warped gusset plate and reinforced it with another one. With this out the way, we felt more confident that our performance would improve.


At the competition


        The following match began somewhat innocently; the robot’s code was still error-filled, but we came close to figuring out the root of the issue. Everything was going decently until our robot smashed into one of the field elements, ripping the entire intake mechanism off of the robot. As I saw the robot’s arm dragging across the field, I thought the damage would be irreparable. After the match, we bolted onto the field hoping to fix the robot as quickly as humanly possible – only to find out that our next match was in ten minutes. It was humiliating. Without an intake mechanism on the robot, there was little we could do to contribute. A few frustrating games without an intake system later, we finally had the chance to reattach the robot’s arm to be able to play the game as intended. Learning our lesson, we secured the robot’s intake system with a combination of bolts and rivets. We also pinpointed the issue with our autonomous code and corrected it.

        It was an incredible feeling for us to be able to play matches without technical issues. Our autonomous code did exactly what we needed it to and we finally got the chance to play our own game rather than one dictated by our more experienced alliance partners. We got to show all of the other teams at the York that team 5699, the Robo Sapiens, came to compete.

Despite all of these setbacks, this experience was anything but a failure. We built a robot that could accomplish what we intended it to, had the opportunity to express our creativity a medium that unlike any other, fundraised thousands of dollars, worked alongside professional engineers, and most importantly went from a group of nerd building robots in a biology room to a family. And, of course, we worked with what are unquestionably the most dedicated teachers in the school. They sacrificed enormous amounts of time away from their families so we could undertake this daunting – and incredible – project. I would like to extend the sincerest thanks to our lead mentors, Mr Kleiman and Mrs Wilk. In the most literal sense, this would not have been possible without their work on the robot and behind the scenes to get us to the competition. I will look back upon robotics as the single most important activity I could have taken part in during my high school career. At the end of the day, we didn’t just build a robot, we built character.