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Robotics team improves at national competition
Team finishes 72nd in division in St. Louis

Sunday, April 28, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Piedmont Governor’s School’s STAG robotics team finished its season Saturday, placing 72nd in the Curie Division at the U.S. FIRST (For Inspiration, Science and Technology) national championship competition in St. Louis.

Governor’s School Director Brian Pace said the team was “a little disappointed with its” 3-5 record during the weekend, but was pleased to have improved on its finish from 2012, when he said team STAG finished about 98th. The FIRST national competition is comprised of four divisions of 100 teams each, Pace said.

After finishing their final match Saturday, Pace said the team stuck around to watch the championship, as the winners of each division squared off for the title.

“It’s a good experience for all of us to come and see all the different types of robots” and learn what can be done with the team’s machines, Pace said. He added that the STAG team hoped to improve upon the maneuverability of its robot to help increase its speed.

FIRST robots are controlled through a web connection using a joystick connected to the robot by a wireless router. Each robot is equipped with a Webcam, and it is steered through a signal fed through laptops at each team’s station. Points can be scored by either shooting Frisbees at a target worth one, two or three points or by climbing a goal. The concept is similar to Ultimate Frisbee, Pace said.

The STAGs won the Virginia competition March 16 for the second straight year having built a robot that specialized in firing accuracy, but Pace said speed seemed to win the day in St. Louis.

“The speed of how quickly you can shoot the frisbees” helped separate winning teams from losing ones, he said. Each round is preceded by an “autonomous” period, where each robot must be programmed to perform its tasks automatically. The STAG team positioned its robot to fire pre-loaded frisbees accurately, but Pace said other strategies also proved effective.

“You see a lot of quick-shooting robots,” he said. “A lot of robots are faster at collection.” Other robots were programmed to fire accurately at a great distance, he said.

Though the Governor’s School team was not satisfied with where it placed, Pace said new strategies should help it continue to improve.

“I’m not saying we’ll be able to come to St. Louis every year,” he said, but the team does expect to continue to be competitive. “It’s been a very successful trip.”

In regard to trying out new driving mechanisms, “that is something we can explore,” Pace said. “We’re going to take some time off, but then we’ll come back and look at the robot we have and do some changes on it.”

Robotics season doesn’t officially start until January, and the team will have to build a new machine from scratch, but Pace said the school will keep its current machine to help new members learn and see how a completed robot functions. There also will be some offseason tournaments in which team STAG can participate, he said.

“We want to teach (new members) how everything works and expose them to it,” Pace said. “We’ve been real fortunate having kids want to do it.”

Pace estimated that each student who takes part in robotics has to invest 10 to 12 hours a week on top of their regular school work, so “it’s a big time commitment. But if they’re interested in robotics, we want them to be a part of it,” Pace added.


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