The Dallas Regional, An Odyssey: Day 2

Day 2, Friday, was another day full of excitement. It started off very early – Leadership Team wanted to get over to Irving before the pits opened, and I needed to be there for a sound check. We all got to Nolan around 6:15, piled into Mr. Piña’s car, and arrived at Irving long before anyone should be awake. As it turned out, we were there quite a bit early…We had to sit around for 45 minutes before we got to go into the pits. By that time, the bus had arrived with the rest of the team.

The pit. And Mike's disapproving look.

Anyway, the pits opened, and the rush resumed. We had just one hour before opening ceremonies would begin. We had all discussed our jobs in the time we had spent waiting. Mine was to get the robot running. I needed to turn it on, check things out, and make sure that it would actually work in the qualification matches we would be in that morning. So I set to it. And so did the seven or so other people in the pit. It’s interesting, really, how working in the pit is. I mean, if there was someone in the pit not doing anything, Kyle sent them away quickly. But even then, there were usually six or seven of us in there who actually needed to be there. The pit is a small, cramped space. There is one table, provided by the venue, that sits on one side, and then the rest of the 10×10 space is yours to fill. And we certainly filled it. We only brought what we thought we might need, but that included our 3d printers, the driver station and wiring bin (a behemoth), a toolbox (I’m talking about a very very large rolling one), a band saw, totes full of useful things, our battery cart, and various promotional materials. Throw the robot in the middle of that, and you’ve got a tight fit. But it worked. Amazingly. Somehow, with the robot in the middle of the pit on the floor (we prefer to work on it on the floor (I won’t bore you with the long list of sensible reasons,)) and three or so people crouched around it working, we still managed to fit another four or so of us in there each working on our own little project. I would compare it to clockwork, but it looked more like a very messy bedroom. But I digress. It worked, somehow.

And so the morning continued. We worked and worked. Our main issue, which we had been encountering all season, was that the lead screw wasn’t working consistently well. I cannot possibly detail here the entire episode that is the Rise and the Fall of the Lead Screw Lift Carriage, but I will tell you that at some point we simply decided it just wasn’t possible nor worth it to get it fixed while at Dallas. We needed to focus on other things. At this point, or possibly before we came to that conclusion, the call for opening ceremonies came, and we had to stop work. I went over to the AV booth to get my microphone, and I nervously waited as the ceremonies began, and the long tirade that was the introductions of volunteers and safety inspectors and college deans and football players was delivered. Eventually, just at the end of the ceremony, I stepped out onto the Recycle Rush field and sang the National Anthem. It was pretty awesome. I have to say, I was so very nervous and apprehensive about doing such a thing. But there’s something there, in that moment, when you sing the National Anthem, and the room breathes with you, that is truly amazing. When you pause between lines, and hear silence, the shiver runs down your spine (I feel it as I write this). There is something truly amazing in that moment that you lead a group in the Star Spangled Banner. It was an honor to have that opportunity. So I just want to give a quick thank you to the members of my team who pushed me to do that, and also to those of you FIRST volunteers who recruited me, helped me, and encouraged me.

Not a great picture. But it's a picture.

And there I’ve digressed once again – I really am bad at this. Back to the regional. As we returned to our pits, the announcers updated us on the weather, and the revised schedule of the regional. Due to weather concerns, the qualification matches would be split, half that day, and half Saturday morning, to then be followed by finals and awards. We had expected something like this. In fact, not long after, Nolan decided to close at 11:45 in an attempt to allow all of the students to get home safely.

It was around that time that a member of Team 4076, whose pit was across the way from us, came over to talk to Kyle. It seemed that their school district (Northwest ISD in Keller) was calling them home, and that they had no choice but to go. Team 4076 approached us to ask if we could drive their robot in qualification matches (if a robot misses a qualification match, it hurts the team and the other alliance members). We graciously accepted, and put Jake Borta on the task. As you’ll come to learn when I write up Day 3, Jake spent the rest of the weekend leading a group of Team 2468 students (who we petitioned for help, as we were short on manpower) to drive 4076’s robot. Jake did a great job with this, and displayed some real commitment to FIRST’s ideal of Gracious Professionalism by spending the regional working with another team’s robot. Thanks Jake!

Kevin, hold the phone please.

Not long after that (I really don’t have any sense of the timing of things on Saturday. I mean Friday. Wait, what?), the decision was made that some of us would have to stay in Dallas if we hoped to be there on Saturday. The road conditions were steadily deteriorating, and there was no safe way we would be able to make it home that night and then back again in the morning. So it was decided that a core group of the most necessary people on the team would stay behind (as we would later find out, its a pain to try and operate even one robot with nine people (that’s why we asked 2468 to help with 4076’s bot)). The rest of the students would return to Nolan on the bus around 2:00, after we presented for Chairman’s.

At some point, lunch came, and then passed, without me really noticing. It was soon time to get ready for Chairman’s. I had not been intending to help with Chairman’s, but I did…It was interesting, to say the least, to be all dressed up and wearing a cowboy hard hat. But they loved us! The judges were enthused. And the credit for that must completely go to Adrienne and Mark. I was a last minute addition added for my ability to answer smoothly and transition well. But those two put many long hours into preparing material for the presentation. I also want to give a shout-out to Jazzy, who put together an amazing Chairman’s video. A big thank you from everyone on the team to the three of you. Oh, and since it doesn’t appear we ever posted the video on this blog, here it is:

After Chairman’s, the bus returned to Nolan (well, it didn’t return for about two hours or so…), and we kept on going. As the lead screw wasn’t working, we zip tied the tote grabbing arms high up out of the way, and resolved to push stacks of two totes (which we could make at the human-player station) onto scoring platforms. This worked okay for us. During our work time between matches, I adjusted autonomous until I hit a working formula for driving straight in the auto zone for the robot set. After that, we managed to make it in reliably. Unfortunately, most other teams used autonomous to set themselves up for teleop (they grabbed totes, recycling containers, drove to a human-player station), so the robot set wasn’t often scored.

Snow. Snow. Snow.

Eventually, the day wound down. The pits closed, and after gathering up what we wanted for the hotel (which somehow managed to exclude phone chargers, which I had in plenty in the pit), we headed out to the hotel shuttle (not pictured above – that’s a school bus). After arriving at the Omni (wow….), we settled into our rooms, had dinner, a team meeting, and then lots and lots of sleep.

Look out for Day 3 coming soon.