Robowarriors build time down to the wire

Photo by Erin GavleA Robowarriors student works on a design using a computer aided design program Jan. 26 at Wiesbaden High School.

Photo by Erin Gavle
A Robowarriors student works on a design using a computer aided design program Jan. 26 at Wiesbaden High School.

One of the teams at Wiesbaden High School has been hard at work for the last month preparing for their end of season championship. However, it’s not the basketball team or even the cheerleaders — it’s the Robowarriors, WHS’s robotics team.

The team is developing a fully functional robot named Frau POW! 8, for their upcoming First Robotics competition in Orlando. Before they head stateside, however, the Robowarriors are going to take a trip just a little closer to home. At the end of February, they’re going to Holland to scrimmage with other European teams participating in the First competition.

The event will be hosted by a Dutch team called the Rembrandts, who have created an exact replica of the Game, which is the field the actual competition will take place on. WHS students are excited for the opportunity to have a trial run.
Club president Andrea Spencer explained, “[It’s] going to be so beneficial for us to go there and take advantage of the time that we’ll be able to spend on the field because it will be exactly like the one [for the] competition.”

There are expected to be between 8 and 10 teams from Europe attending the scrimmage, with Wiesbaden and AFNorth as the only two DoDEA representatives.

“Basically all these people are going to be coming and we’re going to do just like a mock [run],” Spencer said. “[Like a] practice competition just to see how well we can run a robot, practice driving and stuff, and see how it actually works competing against other robots instead of just practicing by ourselves.”

The Robowarriors’ advisor, Frank Pendzich agreed that this trip is important because it allows the team to “get used to the game and also develop some strategies and techniques. It puts us two days ahead because when we arrive in Orlando, we’ll know what the field looks like, we will have practiced on one [that was] the actual size [as the real one] against a competitor. It gives us a head’s up.”

The Warriors have had to work almost nonstop to get to this point. Build season commenced on Jan. 9, and all teams have only six weeks to create their robot and pack it for competition. While the teams predicted the scrimmage will be helpful, it also puts them on an accelerated timeline.

According to Sophie Parker, the Vice President of the Robowarriors, “We’re starting on our main robot. We just finished our prototype, but we also have to be done sooner than the official end date because we have a scrimmage in Holland that we have to go to.”

While the teams only take one robot to compete, over the span of build season, they don’t build just one.
“Every year we’ve built several robots,” Spencer said. “The programmers they program the robot. The CADders, they build the robot on the computers, so it’s basically just a picture. Then we build a prototype so it’s completely operational. Then we build our challenge bot, our final design. So we build several robots completely, whether it’s on the internet of physically.”

CAD stands for Computer Aided Design, and refers to the software the students use to create a virtual robot. Pendzich explained, “It’s a sophisticated design tool that’s used in industry. The manufacturer thinks it’s better for them if the kids go through engineering schools learning how to use it.”

“CAD is the way we design the robot and get all the correct measurements and everything,” Parker added. A precise design is vital to be successful in competition, because this year’s bot needs to be capable of performing a wide range of tasks from throwing balls and storming enemy defenses to lifting a five pound portcullis and hoisting itself to the top of a castle.
Spencer, who has participated in past competitions, noted that having a digital design is important for adapting to unforeseen challenges.

“When we’re building our prototype, we’ve had to change it several times late into the build process,” he said. “But if we had our final robot, which is a lot more structurally sound it would be a lot harder to change it around because it’s welded.”
Flexibility is important, as First competitions are notoriously complex. The rule book is nearly 150 pages, and Pendzich admited that “sometimes we miss a rule and have to modify a robot.” He cited an instance in the past where the students mistakenly measured the robot in kilos, and failed to realize they were over the weight limit. They had to cut 40 pounds off the bot once they arrived at the competition.

This year, upon arrival in Holland, the team will get right to work. Pendzich predicted.
“We’ll be sleeping on the warehouse floor where they have the arena set up,” he said. “If we sleep at all. What I hope to do is for them just to spend all night doing this and the next day and then they can sleep on the bus on the way home.”

If the scrimmage in Holland is successful, there could potentially be big changes for robotics clubs in Europe. “What they’re trying to do is [qualify] to hold a regional event over here so the teams from Europe don’t have to go down to Israel or the US,” Pendzich shared. He also hopes to make it possible for Wiesbaden students to letter in robotics in the future.

Their robot may be the one throwing the balls and charging opposing teams, but don’t let that fool you. Pendzich will tell you that the Robowarriors are just as dedicated as any of the other WHS athletes.

“We’ve been working for six weeks straight every day,” he said. “It is a team sport.”

(Editor’s note: this is the second article in a series following the Wiesbaden High School RoboWarriors as they build and compete in their 2016 robotics competitions. Erin Gavle is a senior at WHS and career practicum student in the Public Affairs Office).