The San Ramon Valley High School robotics team is gearing up for their next competition following a “surprise” win in Monterey last weekend, which has launched them into the next round.
The team is currently in Fresno, settling in and preparing for the official kick-off of the FIRST Robotics Central Valley Regional this Friday and runs through Saturday. The trip comes on the heels of a win at the Monterey Bay Regionals last week, from March 23 to 26.
“With limited resources coming out of two years of hibernation due to the cancellation of in-person activities, the team, known as Team 1280, the ‘Ragin’ C-Biscuits, ‘put its scrappy ingenuity to work by building a robot with both autonomous and remote control cargo delivering capabilities in just a few short weeks, “an announcement from the team said.
While the team was able to keep up some relevant STEM-related work during remote learning, the return to in-person learning has also meant a return to hands-on experience in their shop, and the satisfaction of in-person competitions.
This had been rewarding in and of itself, according to team members, who had spent the school year working on passing down skills to younger members and strengthening the team after two years away from the shop – and who had modest expectations for Monterey.
“For FIRST this year the goal was to be able to shoot some balls into a hoop and also be able to climb bars with a robot,” team captain Spencer Level said. “Before Monterey we were still trying to get our robot together, and it was quite a surprise when we won with it.”
While the team had been preparing for the technical and mechanical side of things ahead of the competition, the key to their success turned out to come also from strong interpersonal skills, as a team but also between the teams they allied with, from Madera and Redwood City.
“We were struggling to make points, but we did realize we could have a strategic shift,” said Elliott Danko, the team’s mechanical engineer.
Their shift in strategy led to catching the eye of the teams they would go on to ally with, Danko said, and it served as an “aha” moment for the team, Level said.
“We finally had this all together,” Level said. “We finally met that engineering challenge.”
Level said that the problem-solving challenges presented by robotics were what fascinated him in particular in his work on the team.
“The first thing that comes to mind is really the perfect engineering problem for anyone,” Level said.
The shift in strategy, Level said, had driven home an important point for him and other budding engineers.
“This also illustrates something important in engineering, which is that more complex is not always better,” Level said.
However Level, and the team’s coach, English teacher Lucien Martin, both emphasized that robotics is a field that requires a wide range of interdisciplinary skills beyond engineering prowess.
“Robotics is almost a small business, in the range of media skills, writing grants, emails to teams, parents, tools, circuiting, programming, almost every single skill under the sun you can find under the team,” Martin said.
Level noted that the team’s win in Monterey wasn’t simply due to a shift in strategy and a fortunate ally-ship, but the ability to communicate effectively with their allied teams amidst all the other bustle of competition.
“The level of communication that was required in every single contest, especially when we started getting into those playoff matches … there was about a five minute turnaround between matches,” Level said. “These were all happening simultaneously, so the mechanical pit crew is doing maintenance. I am huddling with the rest of our alliance partners trying to address strategy. So very short window.”
The team said they were hopeful that they might be able to join forces with the same allied teams once again in the Central Valley regionals, and that they were very optimistic about another win if so.
The win in Monterey, and high hopes in Fresno, mean that the team is unexpectedly eying a wild-card slot in the national competition in Houston, Texas just a few weeks after coming home, from April 20-23.
The Central Valley Regional Competition will be live streamed via Twitch on Friday and Saturday. More information is available here.