This weekend, I accompianied the Titan Robotics Club as the team traveled to Atlanta, Georgia for the 2005 FIRST Robotics Competition Championship. It was a roller-coaster ride from the get-go. The drivers were nervous and out-of-practice from the five-week time off. We missed a practice round due to the control panel being left in the pits, and another two were marred by a low battery. The extensive distance between the pits and the playing fields – longer than last year to make the spectator’s walk significantly shorter – exacerbated these problems. Ian and I both had the opportunity to run from the field to the pits to pick up needed items. We both found that the round trip takes just about exactly 5 minutes.
Well, the long and short of it is that the Championship made quick work of our undefeated record – we lost our first match – the third match of the day on the Galileo Field – and it wasn’t even particularly close. Just this one loss, while not a happy moment, nevertheless seemed to lift a great weight off of my shoulders. Sleep, which had not come easily for several weeks, slipped over me then wonderfully. As things went, we also lost our second and third matches, casting most of our team into the gloom that can only be caused by unmet expectations.
However, we eventually recovered, winning the last two matches on Friday, to end the day with a 2-3 record. That did little to raise hopes, however, as there were numerous undefeated teams at the same time. Furthermore, our autonomous mode, which had been quite consistent during the regional, had failed in more than half of the matches. So, Tim, Ian, and I edited the code (a favorite TRC pasttime) to work better, we hoped. In the two hours before our first match the next day, we tested and tweaked until it seemed to work consistently on both sides of the field. Our autonomous mode still didn’t get it every time, but it did seem to generally be closer – and truth be told, it was the most work I had personally done on the robot, aside from stickers for sponsors, since the competition began in January. It felt good to finally have contributed in a concrete way.
On Saturday, after considering a variety of methods in which we could creatively throw a game, including helping the other alliance get a the highest score ever by stacking for them, or attempting to get all of the tetras on to the playing field, we ended up playing both matches straight up. We won the first, but lost the second, finishing with a loosing record of 3-4 as the qualification matches ended. Needless to say, such a performance was quite disappointing, as we had hopes of doing much better.
But, along with the joys of winning and the sorrows of loosing, competitive events have the great side effect of teaching that in the game, as in life, we must never give up. As the top 8 teams selected alliance partners to head off to the elimination matches, we had little hope to be picked, given our performance. When the 8th alliance announced their final pick – team 135 – we thought it was all over for us. But 135 had already been picked, and then, the 8th seed’s final pick – the very last team to make it into the finals – was the Titan Robotics Club – team #492.
I was shocked, but it meant that we were still alive. After a very brief aborted lunch run, we met with our alliance partners. As the lowest seeded alliance, we would have to face off against the top seeded alliance. We were not expected to win. So, like all good competitors, we decided to win anyway. After strategizing, we went out, with no expectations, but ready to prove that we belonged in the finals. Our alliance managed to scrap together a win against the number one alliance, due in no small part to our (accidental) tipping of their leading scorer early in the match. The next game, we had them up against the wall, and it showed as the number one alliance played poorly – outscoring us, but racking up more than enough penalties to nullify their lead. We advanced easily. Just that win alone, so unexpected, was golden. But the best stuff was yet to come.
Having defeated the #1 alliance, we then went up against the fourth seeded alliance. According to our numbers, we were supposed to loose to this alliance badly. But our numbers apparently didn’t include grit, and we managed to outscore the alliance two games in a row. Incidentally, we tipped over another robot, but this time near the end of the game, and it didn’t have any appreciable effect on the outcome of the match.
Now assured of the club’s best finish ever at the Championship, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We had earned a trophy, the one thing missing from last year’s appearance at the Championship. But in front of us loomed the Cheesy Poofs and their ridiculously strong #2 alliance with teams 56 (alliance captian) and 64. They blew us out the first match, but we put up a better fight the second time, where, for the third time is six matches, we tipped a robot (the Cheesy Poofs’) and then snagged another (56). However, the damage had already been done. We were out of our depth – both literrally and metaphorically – with teams that could stack tetras nine high on the center goal.
Nevertheless, it was an excellent run for the #8 alliance. And the Cheesy Poofs are great ambassadors from the West Coast to represent the Galileo division in the final four. They lost in the Championship match, but they did put up a good fight, loosing by just two points – less than the value of a single capped tetra – in the first match. It was also very nice to see games that were almost entirely offensive. The rules this year did that very well, forcing teams to play the game rather than battle bots. The resulting matches were significantly more interesting to watch than last years’, in my opinion. In addition, I felt good cheering for the alliance that beat us, because they won with style fair and square.
The night was concluded by a vastly price-reduced wrap party that was even better than last years. The concluding fireworks show was super-impressive, though I am confused as to why they had two identical displays set up 90 degrees apart, when both in the same place would have been approximately 75% more impressive for the same price. But whatever – well worth the $35, as opposed to last year’s $90 rip-off.
A roller-coaster ride indeed – but one that ended up, which is always nice.