MAR 2016 Hatboro-Horsham District Event Synopsis

On Friday, March 4, FIRST robotics team 2559, Normality Zero, departed Dauphin County Technical School to attend the Hatboro-Horsham district competition, hosted by FIRST robotics team 708, Hatters Robotics. The Hatboro-Horsham district event was one of two competitions that were held during the first week of gameplay in the Mid-Atlantic Robotics (MAR) division of FIRST, the other being held at Mt. Olive High School in Flanders, New Jersey. The Hatboro-Horsham district event attracted 37 FRC teams this year and spanned a three day course.


The competition weekend began with the unloading and setting up of various workstation elements by the team pit crew. While the pit area was being setup, team president, Evan Tonkin quickly followed robot inspection and registration procedures to kickstart the night. Following the initial robot weight inspection, pit crew members worked with mentors to quickly modify electrical elements and apply the finishing touches to team 2559, Normality Zero’s 2016 FIRST Stronghold robot, Sir Render. Time was scarce and there were many elements of the robot that needed to be fine tuned, however, the team collectively worked through mishaps and technical issues to end the first night of competition on a high note.


The following day, Saturday, March 5, started with a troubleshooting session, which involved the diagnosis of a string potentiometer and its sensor values. Normality Zero students and mentors were able to resolve any last minute issues before the opening ceremonies started.


Shortly after the completion of the drive team meeting and opening ceremonies team 2559 was queued for the their first qualification match. The fourth of 74 qualification matches had team 2559 paired with teams 341 (Miss Daisy) and team 2539 (The Krypton Cougars), this starting alliance worked together to deliver a win of 67-47. During the autonomous period, team 341 was able to successfully breach a defense, while team 2559 was able to make contact with a defense and earn a lead early on in the match. The majority of the match played involved team 2559 breaching various defenses as the primary method to earn points. This initial match was a learning curve for the drivers of both the red and blue alliances, however, it also served to highlight the limitations and actual capabilities of robots on the field.


Although 2559 Normality Zero emerged victorious from the first qualification match, there were a few underlying issues that needed to be smoothed over before the next few qualification rounds. One these underlying issues was the unreliability of the string potentiometer in regards to controlling the movement of Normality Zero’s intake/arm mechanism. The arm movements not responding to what the drive intended caused some major concerns. This issue would persist until the pit crew decided to disable, and eventually remove the potentiometer in favor of a more manual control method. 2559’s pit crew worked very hard to ensure that all the hardware on the robot was successfully tightened. Aside from basic check ups, multiple additions to the robot were added, some of which included a secondary webcam for vision tracking, plexiglass protection for various electronics, and a few mechanical elements which would eventually aid in the traversing of field obstacles.


While the pit crew and drive team were occupied with the mechanical and electrical status of the robot, several team 2559 students conversed with various judges regarding the build season, technical aspects, and team organization of Normality Zero robotics. Headed by Noah Greene, the scout team students weren’t left out of the action either, many students spent their time in the field gathering important data.


Over the course of the first day, Normality Zero would compete in many qualification matches, each proving to be more stressful than the last. Tensions were high as it seemed the robot’s overall status was degrading after each match played. The pit crew worked tirelessly to make adjustments and repairs before queueing for a match. Despite the demanding conditions of the competition both students and mentors managed to stay calm and troubleshoot and potential issues.


The first day defied any predispositions members of team 2559 may have had. Prior to the Hatboro-Horsham district event the overall strategy for team 2559 was to breach the defenses while establishing Sir Render as a capable shooter. This action plan was not case, as team 2559 never had the opportunity to use their shooting mechanism. Aside from shooting the boulder into the high goal, team 2559 quickly realized how easy it was to make an error during the qualification matches, as Sir Render was caught in some very difficult situations throughout the day.


Team 2559 was able to compete in their final qualification match of the day, thus finishing with an overall rank of 11. This position in the rankings warranted major discussion when the team arrived at their conference room at the Days Inn hotel. The scouting team worked closely with the drive team and alumni members to develop a contingency “pick-list” in case the team would ever be put in a scenario where they would be an alliance captain or assisting an alliance captain with picking a final member.


After a long night of thoughtful discussion, Normality Zero team members were all on the same page, and ready to take on the last of the qualification matches.


On Sunday, March 6, team 2559 returned to Hatboro-Horsham high school well rested and eager to compete. Despite a hopeful and determined attitude held by many on team 2559 it seemed as if events weren’t panning out as planned. Sir Render lost a valuable component, which would drastically affect the robot’s operation in future matches. An aluminum shaft from the customized window motor had broken off, severely restricting the angle at which the shooting mechanism was able to launch at. This mechanism failure warranted team members to consider other options, one of which was to remove the boulder intake motors on the arm mechanism, add a reduction kit, and then perform a replacement on the window motor.


While faced with the dilemma of the obsolete shooting mechanism, team 2559 was queued for a match. With limited time, Normality Zero team members decided to perform in the next qualification round, despite an obsolete shooting mechanism. Team 2559 competed in the 50th qualification match of the event and suffered a narrow loss.


This defeat was not as devastating as what soon followed. Pit crew members discovered an issue with a CIM drive motor, which operated the transmission of the left side of the robot. Fortunately team 2559 had packed several spare CIM motors, which were quickly swapped out with the problematic motors. This quick swap of the CIM motors had electrical and mechanical team members breathing easy for a while, however this grace period only lasted until the next match. After returning from the field victorious drive team members notified the pit crew of a drive belt that had snapped. The snapped belt was the prime component in a 6 wheel drive train and needed to be replaced immediately, however, this time team 2559 was not as fortunate. Upon realizing this mishap, students quickly worked to gather a spare belt from other teams, however, this effort was in vain as the drive belt used on Sir Render was a custom one. The drive team eventually continued on without a drive belt, resulting in an effectively four wheel driven robot.


In spite of not having a fully operational drivetrain and obsolete shooting mechanism, team 2559 was able to win 3 out of 4 of the last qualification matches played. The drive team members worked with alliance members to efficiently traverse multiple defenses and deliver many much needed wins.


Normality Zero finished the qualification matches ranked 13th out of 37 teams, and was in a  good position to be chosen during alliance selection. The nail biting processes of alliance selections had many members of team 2559 feeling anxious, doubtful, and hopeful all at the same time. After a series of selections made by various alliances two final spots remained, a seat with the highest ranked alliance, and a seat with the second highest ranked alliance. The moment of truth arrived when teams 834 (SparTechs) and 2607 (The Fighting RoboVikings) invited Team 2559, Normality Zero to join their alliance.


Energized by the selection news many members of team 2559 took a break from the demanding nature of FIRST to enjoy their lunch at the cafeteria. Meanwhile pit crew member, Mohammad Tanveer worked on adding a gear reduction to the 775 Vexpro motor so that the shooter would regain functionality. The gear reduction required a ring gear piece which team 2559 did not have handy, however, prior to alliance selections team 834 had provided this essential piece, which would make their alliance selection of team 2559 seem all the more perfect.


With the gearbox assembled and ready to replace the non-functional window motor, students from team 834 and 2607 ventured to Normality Zero’s pit to resolve any potential issues. Both of Normality Zero’s alliance partners were extremely helpful as they provided parts and solutions to some issues blocking team 2559’s path. After discussing the issues surrounding Sir Render, team 834 and their alliance partners held a drive train meeting, which would set the tone for entirety of the play off rounds.


During the drive team meeting it was decided that Normality Zero would go back to their 2012 and 2014 blue banner winning routes and play defense. It was because of this strategy that any plans to revive the disabled shooting mechanism were brought to a stop.


During the first round of playoff gameplay, Normality Zero’s drive team was aggressive with defense. Receiving some much needed insight from a strategist from team 834, Normality Zero’s drive team was able to position Sir Render in an optimal place to prevent opposing alliance members from scoring into the low and high goals. With exception of earning a few penalties, Normality Zero and their alliance partner’s pulled through the quarter final matches with a 2-0 record and a district event high score of 133 points.


Following the quarterfinal matches, the robot was quickly brought back to the pit area to make  last minute adjustments, which included securing the disabled shooter in fixed position. The shooting mechanism was not removed from the robot due to time constraints, so therefore it had to be constantly reinforced. Team 2559 pit crew members received aid from some members of the scout team when the team came together to effectively secure all loose hardware, swap batteries, and fasten the shooting mechanism.  After a quick swap of bumpers team 2559 was ready to take on the opposing alliance during the semi-finals.


The semi-final matches proved to be stressful and exciting as Normality Zero battled with the sixth seeded blue alliance. Primarily playing defense team 2559 proved to be a worthy adversary as they denied team 1640 (Sab-Bot-Age) and team 4454 multiple shots into the low goal. This defense however, was met with great offense as team 4454 delivered a drastic blow to team 2559’s robot. The impact of the collision resulted in team 2559’s battery being ejected from the robot, ending the match for Normality Zero. Although Normality Zero and their alliance members had won the match, the ejected battery had to replaced and secured properly for the next semifinal match.


Eventually team 2559 was able to work with their alliance partners and mentors to secure a new battery into Sir Render, and defeat the blue alliance. This 2-1 victory over the blue alliance resulted in the advancement of Normality Zero and their alliance to the finals, where they would face three of the best teams at the competition venue, teams 2590 (Nemesis), 1218 (Vulcan Robotics), and 5407 (Wolfpack Robotics)


With the final play off matches underway team 2559 and their alliance partner’s worked diligently to make last minute modifications and repairs to their robot. These final matches provided Normality Zero team members the opportunity to earn a third blue banner.


The first play off match was a valiant effort by the blue alliance, however, the red alliance was able to overpower their opposition with a series of high goal points coupled with a multiple obstacle breaches. The final score of the first finals match was 111-99 in favor of the red alliance.


The second finals match had many members of the blue alliance on their feet as they battled the red alliance to push for a tiebreaker third match. Normality Zero revamped their defense techniques and successfully prevented  some major shots by team 2590. Combined with the breaching of the red defenses, the blue alliance had accumulated enough points for another shot at the blue banner. The final score of the second finals match was 108-99 in favor of the blue alliance.


After a time-out session both the red and blue alliances were ready to compete for the famed blue banner. It was anyone’s game, both alliances suffered damage to their robots, with team 2607 in particular damaging their shooter. At the start of the match, team 2590 was able to score the red alliance an early lead in autonomous when they scored into the high goal. Throughout the match team 2559 played defense and prevented an scoring attempts from team 2590. While teams 834 and 2607 worked on destroying the red alliance obstacles Normality Zero was caught in a cat and mouse game with the red alliance, which eventually led to team 2590 making a few high goal shots. The scores were very close on both sides, however the defining moment of the final match came when two of three robots on the blue alliance were disabled, effectively losing the final game of the day.


Despite not winning the blue banner at the district event, Normality Zero, The SparTechs, and the Fighting RoboVikings played their hearts out and put their best foot forward to deliver an amazing end game performance, which could have gone either way. The final score of the last game of Hatboro-Horsham 2016 was 120-96, in favor of the red alliance.


There were many takeaways from the first MAR event of 2016, each member of team 2559 learned a unique lesson and gained a knowledge and action filled experience. Many of the experiences at the Hatboro-Horsham competition served as learning curve for inexperienced pit crew members and underclassmen, these experiences will most definitely be invaluable at the next competition Normality Zero attends. Throughout all the mishaps, part failures, penalties, repairs and moments of pure luck Normality Zero pulled through as a team and managed to stay calm and most importantly have fun!


Congratulations to the winning alliance of teams 2590, 1218, and 5407, and a sincere thank you to Normality Zero’s finalist alliance members, 834 and 2607!