There was some screaming coming from the bleachers – words like “hang” and “shoot” – while others quietly observed and recorded the results. Perhaps the most distinct noise, though, was the mechanical whirring.
That said, it’s all over in a matter of 150 seconds.
The gymnasium of Northwestern High School was filled with audience members on Saturday. They were all there to watch the 2022 For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics competition.
There were 32 teams in total competing in the first qualifying tournament of the season. Each team represented various high schools across the state and would have an additional two competitions to compete it before figuring out whether they were still in the running.
The objectives of the competition change every year, Mary Baker, a volunteer at the event, explained from the bleachers.
This year, there were two methods of scoring points.
Before each match, six teams were evenly divided between red and blue alliances.
At the start of each match, robots would have 15 seconds to fire color-coded balls, roughly the size of volleyballs, into one of two stacked hoops. The lowest hoop sat 3 feet and 5 inches above the ground, but robots would need to fire the projectiles 8 feet and 8 inches in the air to reach the second hoop.
If the robots shot a ball from their opponent color, the points would count toward their opponents score.
After the first 15 seconds, drivers and operators from each team could take control and score more points in the hoops.
Finally, near the end of the round, each team could also score points by latching on to an obstacle similar to monkey bars. There were four rungs on the obstacle, each a little taller than the last and worth more points. The lowest bar sat at 4 feet and ¾ inches while the tallest rung required robots to remain suspended 7 feet and 7 inches in the air.
Jack Dohery, a referee at the event, added that robots could not hold more than two balls at a time. He added this year’s rules protected the game’s structure and the safety of attendees.
A foul against one team translated to automatic points to their opposing team. However, yellow and red cards could also be issued. For example, if a team disabled another robot, even accidentally, it would be issued a red card and forgo all points for the round.
Between rounds, each team could return their robot to the pits and make modifications or repairs as the day progressed.
Fresh out of a match, Kokomo High School senior David Brothers explained he was proud of the team’s efforts thus far.
“I think we lost the match, but the fact that the robot did what we wanted it to do was a sigh of relief,” Brothers said.
He added that his main concern after each round was modifying things like the shooting mechanism’s RPM in the robot’s Java coding so the automated portion of rounds would run smoother.
As one of the TechnoKat drivers, Ethan Flaherty, a junior, explained he controls the positioning of the robot while the team’s operator controls ball intake and the robot’s hooked arm.
“It’s not too difficult,” Flaherty said. “You just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.”
He also explained the team had been meeting four times a week and mostly developed the robot’s intake mechanism, which collects balls, during prototyping.
For many teams, it was the first year students were able to participate in FIRST Robotics Competition. COVID-19 brought the competition to a screeching halt in March 2020.
This year was also the first time Lewis Cass High School teamed up with Logansport High School. The two schools operated as the Iron Kings Berrybotics.
Matthew Snoeberger, an IT director at Lewis Cass and mentor for the team, said the school rivalries hadn’t presented an issue for the team.
“This is the real world where you don’t get to choose who your partners are,” Snoeberger said. “It’s just engineers working with engineers.”
Snoeberger added that the biggest hurdle for the team was starting with an all-rookie team. In the past, seniors in the robotics team could help fresh members acclimate to the competition or jump in to make robotic adjustments without much supervision.
“We’re the best of both worlds,” said Elijah Beard, a Lewis Cass sophomore who served as one of the team’s programmers.
Aiden Snoeberger, a Logansport freshman and driver for the team, added “everybody’s learned something that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Behind the two students, the rest of the team was repairing the robot’s base. During its recent match, the robot hit a wall while its intake mechanism was open and sustained damage.
The team would have to sacrifice a portion of their lunch break to get the machine in competitive shape.
“That’s completely what robotics is about,” Matthew Snoeberger said. “You have a problem in front of you, solve it, go to the next one, solve it.”
Meanwhile, Western High School’s robotics team, PantherTech, was taking it easy during the lunch break.
“This has been a really good year for us,” said Dylan Barkley, a senior at the high school and one of the team’s operators.
Barkley added that the team had spent most of its time leading up to the event designing and building the robot. Although PantherTech wasn’t able to spend much time practicing with its robot, he was happy with its ability to reach the final obstacle’s top bar.
Janna Wilson, a Northwestern junior and CyberTooth’s team captain, said the home team also found a lack of practice to be the biggest challenge.
In between matches, coders tweaked the RPM of the robot’s shooting mechanism. They had consistently managed to reach the final obstacle’s top bar, though.
Wilson said the robot was able to lift itself off the top rung in 10 seconds on the team’s fastest run, but they usually slowed their pace around 15 to 18 seconds for the competition to ensure smooth operation.
Although team members were practicing professionalism, helping any opposing teams that needed expendable materials, they had their eyes set on the blue ribbon reserved for winning teams.
There could be other Howard County teams for CyberTooth to align with after the three qualifying matches. But ultimately, Wilson said CyberTooth would team up with whoever they thought would help bring home a blue banner.
Back on the field, shortly after lunch Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore stepped in as a guest emcee.
During the 19th match of the day, scouting members from each team watched from the bleachers, trying to decide where alliances could be made should they progress past all three qualifying events.
Among the red allegiance, Moore explained to the crowd, was Iron Kings Berrybotics. Across the field, CyberTooth waited to compete in the blue allegiance.
The crowd remained relatively quiet as the robots completed the 15-second automated portion of the match.
Then, a horn blared, prompting cheers and chants from the bleachers as the robots zipped around the course trying to score points.
With seconds to spare, the Berrybotics and CyberTooth robots nearly collided while racing back to the climbing obstacle. Berrybotics managed to latch on to the second rung, but CyberTooth reached the top.
With the points totaled, the blue team won with a 31-point lead.
“This is the wave of the future,” Moore said, adding that the competition gave students a chance to showcase skills they might otherwise be unable to develop. “Just like any other sporting event, the competition, the energy and the excitement is just electric.”