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Hello, Robolions team members, mentors, friends, and community members! Welcome to "The Fourth Law of Robotics," home to University City High School's FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Team. We hope to use this blog to inform you about what we're up to.
We compete in the FRC (First Robotics Competition), an annual competition where we have six weeks to build a robot from scratch. This year's game is Recycle Rush. We'll post updates here to let you all know what we're up to with building (and competing with) our robot!
We also are now competing in FTC (First Tech Challenge), the next level down from FRC. The game was called Ring It Up!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Frantic Friday

Our day got off to an exciting start when we received our match schedules and realized we were up for the first match! Immediately, the crew got working on preparing Serenity for her first big game.

However, the first match was somewhat disappointing. The dustbin snapped off once again (although another team lost an entire bumper, so by comparison it wasn't that bad), and although we did some mediocre defending, by the end of the match Serenity somewhat spiraled out of control, incurring dozens of points of technical fouls. Furthermore, we forgot to unload some Frisbees from Serenity's chute. However, we were visited by three very friendly judges, and three scouts from Team 931 (Perpetual Chaos), and talked to each for a while about our robot. Captain Grace assigned Addy and Paul to watch from the stands and take notes on teams we were to be either paired with or against in the course of the competition.

Our next match was #15, around 10:40 in the morning. This one was a disaster. Someone forgot to remove the wooden plank lodging Serenity's arm in the upright position before the match. The drivers didn't realize this and kept trying to move the arm, which eventually broke the fasteners allowing it to move. Consequently, we didn't do much of anything. Henry made a valiant effort to score some human points, but it's awfully difficult to aim across the field. The wooden plank was removed and exiled to a corner of the pit, but there were still bugs to fix. The worst part was that we were scheduled for Match 18, meaning that any repairs had to be made in the queue line! 

In a few minutes, we competed again. Serenity still hadn't been completely patched up, but she did some decent defense agains Team 4331. However, we were allied with Teams 4330 (Rambunction, from Ladue) and 4154 (Perpetual Recursion), the latter of which was outstanding and carried our alliance to victory. We returned to the pit and leapt into action repairing Serenity, while Captain Grace talked with a scout. Our next match wasn't until after lunch, so we had ample time to repair those screws -- a task that might necessitate removing the entire arm!

While Walter, Christine, and Mike worked dutifully on the arm, the rest of us headed outside to enjoy glorious summer-like weather, eat Subway (provided by Mrs. Sechrist), and play an AWESOME game of Frisbee. The builders joined us for the last half of lunchtime, and then it came time to reenter the pit and prepare Serenity for a match in thirty minutes.

In our next match, we were allied with Team 1288 R.A.V.E.N. Robotics, one of the best shooters in the competition and at that time ranked #1. Victory was guaranteed. As for Serenity, she defended rather zealously, becoming locked up with Team 1706's robot for some time. Tension was high as everyone waited for 1706, perched at an awkward angle, to topple to the ground -- and the drivers stressed over losing connection to Serenity. However, after a few awkward moments, our opponent freed itself, bumping Serenity against our pyramid and incurring a technical foul. After that, noting that there was no way for our opposing alliance to make a comeback, Serenity retreated to a corner to let 1288 do their thing. Another win for 3397! We returned to the pit to inspect Serenity and make sure her close call with 1706 hadn't damaged anything.

The next match wasn't very exciting, since our two alliance partners built specialized climbing robots. Serenity ran about and blocked a few opponents. Our points were guaranteed by the climbers, but an opponent robot also bumped into the climbers twice, incurring 40 points of technical fouls that only cemented our third victory.

About an hour later, we returned to the field for another match. It's worth noting that our autonomous period had been faltering in every match until now. Dan and Josh anticipated trying out their new autonomous code on this match. However, she unfortunately turned in the wrong direction, so it seemed some changes still needed to be made. Furthermore, it seemed the new battery we'd put in was less than optimal: Serenity was sluggish and eventually stalled out about halfway through the match. Our opposing alliance included the 1985 Robohawks, our friends and rivals, who scored enough to wallop our team. Looked like our winning streak was broken.

Although autonomous goofed up again, in our next match we actually scored points, disgorging a few Frisbees into the 1-point goal. Unfortunately, we also bumped up against an opponent robot at its feeder station; and more worryingly, a corner of our arm shield broke off during a tussle with the Army Ants' robot. Also, our alliance was thoroughly trounced -- but the important thing is, we scored points! That's a victory in our book, even if Henry disagrees.

In our final match of the day, Serenity defended her best yet. The problem was that our alliance mates were not optimized for scoring, so all our awesome defending didn't mean much. Really, that was the problem with most of our bungled matches: simply not having any synergy with our alliance mates.

Well, with our matches for the day done, we migrated to the stands to watch the final few matches and the awards ceremony. Walter, Henry, and I danced with the Cavaliers before hanging out with the CyborgCats for a time.

All things considered, today was a pretty great day for the team. We fixed all the problems that came up, and marketed ourselves to higher-up teams. We didn't get a chance to do what Serenity was built for -- feeding teammates -- but there's always tomorrow. Regrettably, I won't be there on Saturday, due to a prior commitment; Captain Grace will take the reins of the blog then and keep you all posted!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday Preparations

We arrived at the Chaifetz Arena at 8:30 this morning for a day of practice and preparation for the competition tomorrow and Saturday. Outside the doors, we were greeted by old friends from Team 4256, WCA's CyborgCats, and reminisced with them for a time. The day was eventful; I'll divide my recap into several simple portions.

Unloading: Once the doors had opened, we headed quickly to our designated pit area, where Carl, Henry, Addy, and I set up the tent while the others unloaded Serenity and our gear. Christine began removing the lead weights and covering them in radiation-blocking tape, for the safety of all involved.

Scouting: Walter filled out a survey from Team 2838 on Serenity's capabilities: once again, we have a finger in every pie, although her primary function is as a mobile feeding station. Jonah and I checked out some nearby teams: Team 3330, System of the Corn, built a robot specializing in climbing to the exclusion of all else; it doesn't even have a shooter. Team 2978, The Cavaliers, built the opposite: a shooting robot without a climbing function. And good old Team 3284, LASER, has built an enormous robot with a hefty shooter. A climbing robot like 3330's is somewhat disadvantaged, at least according to Walter; with the new rules update, robots can't shoot Frisbees from atop the pyramid, so a robot that can only climb can only score 30 points for its team at maximum. Grace and Addy prepared several sample questions to ask other teams while scouting; using a checklist culled from those questions, Grace, Jonah, and I wandered around the pit to interview various teams and hand out buttons.

Practice Matches: Our first practice match was a bit of a bust. Many things went wrong: the arm conveyor belt was too loose to function, the dustpan broke off, and autonomous mode hadn't been programmed for the lighting conditions in the arena. On the other hand, we weren't out there to try and carry our team; we were testing Serenity's capabilities in the field, such as our ability to block or push large robots (we discovered Serenity can do the first, but not the latter).
Our second match was much more satisfying. We were on an alliance with 4330 Rambunction from Ladue and the 4256 CyborgCats from WCA. The latter was especially impressive, scoring several 3-point shots and climbing to the first rung of the pyramid. Serenity, meanwhile, proved an adequate defender. Also of note is that a pole fell on Carl's head while he was entering the arena before the match. Despite this, he knew what he was doing when it came to driving. Additionally, our autonomous was still a bit wonky.
The third and final practice match went a bit astray when Serenity immediately backpedaled and angled herself against the wall in autonomous. After that, we tried and failed to pick up a few frisbees, before entering our defensive game as usual.

All in all, an eventful day for the team. Mike and Christine are staying an extra few hours to make some much-needed changes to Serenity, but the remainder of the team have headed home to rest up for the coming competition. Here's to another great showing for Team 3397!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Competition in Two Days

We compete at the St. Louis Regional in two days! We will be there on Thursday all day prepping and practicing, and then on Friday and Saturday we will be competing. The public is invited! Here are the details:

Where: Chaifetz Arena, SLU Campus
What: FIRST Robotics Challenge Saint Louis Regional
When: March 15-16
Why: Because robots are awesome that's why

There you go! Come on down and watch the RoboLions compete in our fourth ever regional!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saturday Report

So in the past two weeks, we've completed the robot (who has a name now- meet Serenity!), packed it up, and begun working on a practice bot to work on our driving, programming and other various skills. We're also working on a top-secret project with this backup robot that may or may not be applied to Serenity at competition! Shhh :)

Work is going well. Dan has been programming his heart out as he tries to fix bugs and get autonomous to work. Walter, Carl and Mike have been tirelessly working on the project. Other team members have been contributing as well. Marquise has drawn up awesome plans for the pit design at competition.

We're going to be selling shirts this year as well! They are pink and say I (heart symbol) ROBOTS on the front with 3397 and our sponsors on the back. They will be sold for $20 and hopefully will be in time for competition!

We'll continue to update on the progress we make. Competition is in two weeks now- get pumped!!!