Some of the great kids I'm working withFor those of you who might have noticed I haven’t written anything here recently, here’s what has been going on.

The last two months have been spent pretty much all with robotics. So much so, that I haven’t been skiing this winter at all. One day out to Holimont has been all I have done.

The robotics team finished their build season and we worked furiously up until the last minute when we had to seal up the robot in a big plastic bag until our regional competition in Pittsburgh. We spent the last weekend working on it at the Kenan Center, our local recreational center, where they let us use some space to practice and work on the robot while school was closed for part of the spring break.

While we were there, we invited several TV stations to come interview the team and we had three outlets take us up on the offer. Some of the video footage can be found on the Team Website:

I had a week or so off, then was off to the Fingerlakes Regional at RIT in Rochester where our team wasn’t competing, but I volunteered to work to help out. I spent a day as a Robot Inspector and two days as a Safety Advisor. It was a lot of fun and gave me a lot of insight into the other side of the competition I’d never seen before.

Seeing the game play out and the strategies of the other teams playing was useful too. Many members of our team attended as spectators on Saturday to see some matches first hand. I know the experience helped us at our regional the following week in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh was our first regional event and being held the second week of the series, it gave us a chance to find out the nuances of the rules and see how the refs were going to interpret the rules. That was the main reason we decided to attend it instead of Fingerlakes.

My wife and I drove to Pittsburgh a day early, pulling the team trailer. Two other vehicles worth of team members did the same and we arrived on Wednesday evening with time to unload the still-bagged robot and out pit equipment at the venue the evening before the regional. It was nice not having to rush the morning of…

As for the competition, we did very well. There were problems. There always are. Mechanical, electrical, programming, all reared their ugly heads and fought us every step of the way, but we stuck with it and stayed very competitive. We placed 2nd after the elimination matches by a very narrow margin and ended up choosing the alliance that won 2nd (Silver medal) for the regional. The team that kept us out of 1st place? Our old friends Team 1114 from St. Catherines ON and their alliance mates Team 1503 from Niagara Falls ON. Both teams are teams we’ve played against before and ended up in the same position. Team 1114, the Simbotics, are multiple-time Championship winners and keep producing top-notch robots every year. We have to compete at a high level to stay with them each year.

Our robot deploys itWe also won some other awards. A Coopertition Award based on helping other teams during the regional. That was a nice surprise. We always help out other teams if we can, but being recognized for it was a pleasant surprise.

We also won the regional’s award for the Best Web Site. For a number of years, we always submitted our web site for judging, but never paid a lot of attention to winning any award. We got a few honorable mentions, but no wins. Last year, we wondered why and took a look at the judges report. We found out there were a few key things they wanted to see in a team web site that we weren’t doing properly. So this year, we worked hard to make sure our site fit all the criteria that FIRST set for team web sites. It must have worked. Other than general guidance, and a little server maintenance, I let our web team do all the work, so it was 100% a student built site too. That makes the award even sweeter.

So, we’ve been back from the Pittsburgh regional a couple days now, but are still thinking and working on our plan for the St. Louis competition at the end of April. The robot has been resealed in it’s bag and the whole thing packed in it’s big wooden crate and will be picked up tomorrow for shipment to St. Louis. That’s the way it works; no working on the robot allowed, it ships directly to the next event. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working. We’ll be working on spare parts, programming and thinking about strategy until then.

Work on my cycle tour is at a standstill. With the St. Louis event at the end of April, I won’t be able to hit the road until sometime in May. That’s probably fine, the weather should be good by then. I’ll begin working on that soon.

We have more TV coverage coming this week with the robotics. They’re interviewing the team after our Pittsburgh success again.