PALMDALE — Antelope Valley high school robotics teams, together with others around the globe, are preparing for a “deep space” mission, this year’s game challenge unveiled Saturday morning.
The teams will spend the next six weeks designing, building and testing their robotic creations in preparation for the 2019 competition season.
The Palmdale Aerospace Academy’s Gryffingear team played host to teams from Lancaster, Quartz Hill, Antelope Valley, Rosamond, Highland, Littlerock and Tehachapi high schools at its campus early Saturday, where they joined virtually with teams across the globe for the game reveal.
As part of For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, an international organization that promotes science education, the teams each year create robots designed to accomplish a specific task. Teams and their robots face off in regional events, with the competitions culminating at the international finals in April.
“FIRST Robotics captures everything we’re about,” The Palmdale Aerospace Academy Headmaster Laura Herman said. “It’s about the culture this builds. It’s really about the work that you all do.”
This year’s game is called Destination: Deep Space, in which teams are on planet Primus and must load cargo into a cargo ship and rocket and prepare for launch in between blinding sandstorms.
To earn points, teams must place rubber ball “cargo” into one of two vertical rockets and a low-lying cargo ship at the center of the playing field. They must also place disc “hatch covers” over the openings of the rocket and cargo ship to secure the payloads inside.
At the end of the match, the robots must return to the “habitat” to prepare for launch, a series of low steps at one side of the playing field, each step worth a different amount of points.
“There’s a lot of twists” to the concept, said Amanda Gonzaga of the Gryffingear team.
The biggest twist for this year’s game comes in the initial 15 seconds of each match, in which a screen will drop to block the view of the playing field from the robot drivers, a “sandstorm” on planet Primus.
While matches in previous years began with a 15-second period in which the robot was to operate autonomously with preprogrammed commands, this year’s version allows teams to choose to either go with the autonomous approach or to use cameras and vision software to manually drive the robot from behind the blackout screen.
“If something goes wrong, you’re not going to know,” Gonzaga said, a sentiment echoed by other teams. “I’m just thinking about all the things that could go wrong” and how to avoid them.
The decision of whether to use autonomous programming or to manually drive with cameras will have a snowball effect on other design decisions and even things such as what awards the team may be eligible for, Gryffingear’s Giselle Baez said.
“I’m excited,” she said.
Once they viewed the video introducing this year’s game, teams collected kits of parts provided by FIRST and jumped right into brainstorming ideas for how to approach the challenge and what their robots will need to do.
“It challenges us in new ways, but uses some concepts from previous games,” said Enrique Arjona of Lancaster High School’s Eagle Robotics, Team 399.
Tasks such as launching rubber balls through targets and hanging the disc “hatch covers” have been part of their robots before and this prior experience will be helpful not only for their own creation, but also as they mentor other less experienced teams, he said.
Antelope Valley High School’s Robolopes team members were beginning to see strategy, such as making sure their robot stays short enough to rest on the highest step at the end, worth the most points but with a total height limit.
“This year is going to be our year,” Gryffingear’s Kris Barrios said in the team’s workshop.
In previous years, the team has struggled with the autonomous portion of the match, so being able to use vision tracking and manually drive the robot should be a plus.
“I’m pretty sure we can do vision magic,” he said.
Nearly all the local teams will be participating in the Aerospace Valley Regional competition at Eastside High School in Lancaster on April 3 to 6.
The homegrown competition will feature 38 teams primarily from across the state, but also Florida, Nevada, Turkey, Switzerland and Columbia.
The matches are free and open to the public.
For details, visit www.avregional.org.
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