Asheville School's robotics team has created a robot that can read coded messages, pick up blocks and move them into precise formations, and perform other challenges outlined in this year's competition organized by the nonprofit For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST).
Blue Shift, also known as team 5549, has earned a spot in the state championship tournament. The team will travel to the Corbett Sports Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship on Saturday, February 10.
The first thing the team wants you to know? These robots will not be fighting during the competition. "We are not Battlebots," said Lily Fishman, a sophomore on the team. "People are still surprised we don't have chainsaws."
This year's competition is called FIRST: Relic Recovery. Teams must conceptualize, build and program robots that are able to create "glyphs" by stacking blocks in specific formations and pick up and secure a team "relic" within a limited amount of time.
Instead of battling, teams form alliances and work together to complete the game challenges. "A lot of the competition is cooperating with other teams," said John Michael Selser, a senior on the team who is in his third year on the robotics team at Asheville School. "It's nerve-wracking, exciting and tiring. We put what we have worked on to the test."
Team members say that perfecting the robot is like solving a riddle. It can be difficult, and sometimes tedious, but they have fun working together to create something great.
"In every competition you learn something you can do better and take your robot and tweak it, or even go back to the drawing board," Selser said. "It's a process of trial and error."
"The robots evolve from guessing and checking until you have the level of precision you want," added Gabriel Wong, who has worked extensively on programming commands for this year's robot, including the robot's autonomous functions. "No matter what happens, we have really progressed this year as a team. We are going to go to states and learn something and have fun. Win or lose, we are going to do it on our own merits."
Team coaches Charles Long and Bob Williams are proud of how far their team has come this year. "Our job as mentors is to teach collaboration and how to work together towards a common goal," Long said. "Those skills are bigger than just robotics—you need that in everything you do in life."
This year's robotics team has not only helped host a regional competition on campus, they helped encourage younger FIRST Lego League (FLL) team members in Western North Carolina, and some volunteered at an FLL qualifier in Cherokee, Williams said.
"In early January, our team hosted a state qualifier and represented Asheville School well by placing fourth overall," Williams said. "But rather than play it safe and settle for having a well-designed robot, this team continued to push themselves to make dramatic improvements to the robot in only a few weeks. Their perseverance is one reason why this robotics team earned themselves a trip to the state tournament."
Fishman credits collaboration for the team's success. "We planned everything out and put the plan into place and worked together as a team," she said. "We work on individual things and bring them together to make a finished product. When everything comes together we can be proud of what we made. The fact that we all work together is essential to our success."
Join us in wishing Blue Shift good luck as they go to the state championship! Follow Asheville School on Twitter @AshevilleSchool for updates. This year's team includes Gabriel Wong, Alex Harkness, John Michael Selser, Justin Merriwether, Lily Fishman, Eric Min, Jack Karegeannes and Alex Yoon.