On Friday March 22 and Saturday March 23, high school students from the El Dorado Union High School District Robotics team No. 3189, the “Circuit Breakers,” participated in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Sacramento Regional competition held at the ARC Pavilion on the UC Davis campus in Davis. The team came away winners and is preparing for the nationals in St. Louis, Mo.
As the only El Dorado County FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) team participating in the Sacramento Regional event this year, the students and their robot were seeded 12th out of 53 teams after 98 qualification rounds (of which the Circuit Breakers played 11 rounds, winning seven).
During the elimination rounds, the EDUHSD team, which had won last year’s Sacramento Regional as well, partnered with two other teams, “The Insomniacs” from Fremont and the “RoboVikes” from Fairfield to form an alliance that was undefeated in all six games played. By winning the Sacramento Regional, all three teams have the opportunity to participate in the 2013 FIRST Championships in St. Louis, Mo., along with teams from all around the world.
The team, which consists of about 25 students from El Dorado, Independence, Oak Ridge, Ponderosa, Shenandoah, and Union Mine high schools, knew their robot was a good performer, but they did not expect it to be good enough to win the regional competition.
“I said I’d shave my head if we won because I didn’t believe we’d make it,” said Aron, one of the team’s “pit crew” who is a junior at El Dorado High School and has thick, curly hair.
The coach, Tom Bray, voiced a similar opinion:“We have a good robot and a solid team this year, but it probably won’t be until next year that we make it to championships.” It wasn’t until the elimination rounds were under way that the team realized the strength of their alliance.
Regardless of the rules of the game, FIRST has always stressed the concept of “coopertition,” which is the combination of cooperation and competition. The idea behind the concept is that each team will need to both compete against each of the other teams and cooperate with each of the other teams in order to be successful.
In this year’s game called “Ultimate Ascent,” the object is for an alliance, consisting of three robotics teams, to outscore the competing alliance by shooting Frisbees into one of four locations, with the more difficult locations scoring more points. In addition, points are scored having the robot climb a steel “jungle gym” structure shaped like a pyramid; the higher the climb, the greater the points scored.
With only six weeks from the game-reveal until the stop-build day, building a robot that could do everything well was a tough challenge for the students. Therefore, forging friendships with competitors in order to work together when partnered in an alliance is the key to winning.
When the Circuit Breakers joined with the Insomniacs and the RoboVikes in the elimination rounds, the alliance did not look very impressive. Not one of the robots was a super star; no high climbers, no super-quick shooters, and no super-fast drivers. But all robots in the alliance were solid performers, and after winning the second eliminations match it was clear that was the group’s strength. The opposing alliances could not choose which of the team’s robots to defend against; if one was blocked, the other two got through and scored points. “This was clearly a case of the sum being greater than the individual parts,” Bray said.
The students, mentors, and parents involved in the Circuit Breakers team are now scrambling to raise funds to support the trip to the championships in St Louis. The team is entirely self-funded which means every expense the team has must be covered through donations from the community. The team has yet to secure a long-term sponsor, so there are many opportunities for local businesses to support the young men and women who will become the technology leaders of this country.