Paly robotics team loss provides a learning experience

The Paly robotics team is recovering from a tough defeat at the FIRST Robotics national competition at Atlanta, Georgia from April 14 to 18.
The team placed 73rd out of 73 competitors in its assigned Archimedes division, although its team score was higher than that of the Gunn team’s. Gunn competed in the Newton division, one of four in the contest.

The competition involved four phases. The first assigned participants to engineer a robot to accomplish a given task, which is different every year. Equally significant was a required "press release" portion that presented the team’s product through web design, animation, and video.

This year’s assignment was the "toughest ever," according to team coach Doug Bertain, due to application of a combination of four tasks from previous years’ assignments. The tasks for the robot included picking up balls of two sizes as well as hanging from a bar and "walking" up a staircase. The contest rules also set dimensional restrictions, one of which limited the robot to 130 pounds.

During the contest, a problem with the robot’s programming caused one of its arms to malfunction. Thus, the team members were able to accomplish little of the assigned tasks.

"The tasks were harder and more complicated [than last year’s], and communication between group members was disorganized," sophomore team member Polly Ziegler said.

According to Ziegler, there are 40 full-time members on this year’s Paly team, including 20 who traveled to the event. All of last year’s seniors were lost to graduation; as a result, sophomores primarily make up this year’s team. Members of the team who were unable to attend assisted in the press development.

The robot cost $1,500 to produce, according to Bertain. "We have to raise our own money, and most are donations from parents and companies." he said. "We are actively searching for corporate sponsors."

The robot was initially given six weeks to complete all phases of the competition and was then shipped to San Jose to participate in regionals. The Paly team’s qualification for the national contest this year was the result of its high placement in last year’s regionals.

"This was a learning experience, and we will use it to improve ourselves next year," team captain Marcus Marinelli said.