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2021: A very different robotics season

Updated: May 13, 2022

After a very short 2020 FRC season, where we were fortunate to compete at our first district event before everything past week three was canceled, we knew that 2021 was going to look a little different. We met weekly in fall 2020 to come up with projects of our own, and participated in online sponsor presentations, so that we could continue to feel like a team.

Once 2021 began, we were so excited by all of the creative challenges FIRST, NE FIRST, and even our home of MakerspaceCT made available to our team to keep us involved in STEM-focused projects!

FRC At Home Challenges

FIRST itself was the first program to plan an at-home set of challenges for teams to participate in during the normal build season and competition months. Teams were able to opt-in to three projects that focused on different aspects of problem-solving and STEM:

  1. INFINITE RECHARGE AT HOME: record our 2020 robot completing a variety of tasks to earn points and go up against teams all over the world on a digital leaderboard

  2. FIRST INNOVATION CHALLENGE presented by Qualcomm: design a solution to a real-world problem relating to activity or play, based on the season theme, GAME CHANGERS

  3. GAME DESIGN CHALLENGE: design and explain a possible FRC game that could be used for competitions in future years

Our students participated in each of these three challenges, practicing our robot tasks on one student's driveway as soon as it was warm outside and meeting online to come up with our solutions to the other challenges. We then presented each solution to a remote panel of judges and were scored against other teams in groups named after the periodic table of elements.

INFINITE RECHARGE AT HOME: Our 2020 robot, Lambda, was judged on its design and build as part of the Caesium Group, then tied for 19/45 with 105.56 points in the Power Port task as part of the Samarium Group.

FIRST INNOVATION CHALLENGE: Programming students set out to make an extremely low-latency on-board camera for future robotics gameplay as part of the Cobalt Group.

GAME DESIGN CHALLENGE: To fit with our team's brand, students developed Athena's Labyrinth, a game that combined sorting artifacts shaped like the FIRST logo with a central maze challenge and a final task of ziplining to the starting point. The Hydrogen Group judges were excited that we designed our field mockup in Minecraft!

We also participated in remote Chairman's Award and Dean's List interviews throughout March. Our team learned a lot about remote collaboration, creativity, and thinking outside of the box for each of these at home challenges, but are excited to return to real FRC games in the future!

NE FIRST and BAE Systems Minibot Challenges

As a New England FRC team, we compete at events hosted by our local district. Without these events to plan for 2021, NE FIRST partnered with BAE Systems and many other sponsors to present four Minibot Challenges. We were provided a Romi robot kit and a game mat to start the season, and challenges were released once a month in February, March, April and May.

The first three challenges involved uploading videos of our robot completing tasks on the provided game mat, once in autonomous mode and once with driver-operated controls (teleop). Mondrian Madness involved navigating a single path through a maze inspired by the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. Color Conundrum had us choose between two colored paths and deciding which we would run for our autonomous video and which we would run for our teleop video. Frantic Fetch provided golf balls to set out on the mat and bring back to home base.

The final challenge, Alliance Antics, brought back the fun of competing live against other teams! Merging golf ball fetching, autonomous and teleop driving, and a new end-game challenge into quick matches made it feel just like FRC events. We setup our game mat on a table at a team member's house, made sure we could stream our matches live according to the 2-v-2 schedule, and decorated our background with a few of our pit's owl decorations. We had a ton of fun and added more and more owls to our background between every match, which the game announcers loved.

We planned our end-of-season celebration to coincide with the competition on June 12 so we could enjoy lunch and team bonding during the break in match play. By the end of the day, we had ranked sixth in the competition, been picked to compete in the finals, and come in second for the entire event! Our owl-some display behind our competition table earned us the Team Spirit Award as well.

MakerspaceCT Maker Battle

To round out our season, we tried something completely different: a combat robot! Athena's Warriors normally works out of MakerspaceCT from January through May, but during the pandemic we stayed safe by meeting online and outside. We returned to our home base for their inaugural Maker Battle, a beetle-weight competition for combat robots 3-lbs and under, on October 2nd.

Since FRC robots perform game challenges and follow rules that prohibit damage to opponents, this was a first for Athena's Warriors. We used our Romi robot from the minibot challenge as a base, fortified it with as much steel as we could fit within the weight limit, and added a spinning saw blade as our weapon of choice.

After winning the Team Spirit Award during Alliance Antics, as well as the 2020 Northern CT District Event, we decided to name our battle robot Team Spirit! and give it intimidating owl eyes on the saw blade to fit with our FRC brand.

Despite some connectivity issues and our relative inexperience with combat robotics, we had a great time battling it out in the arena and were awarded a vuvuzela for our "Spirit of the Maker Battle" at the end of the event!

We're looking forward to what our next season has in store!

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