Alamo Regional, Part One


Well, the Alamo regional is finally over. After spending about 36 hours in the giant Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, we’re on our way home. I’m writing this post in the bus (on the way to BBQ!!), using the same laptop I’ve been glued to for those 36 hours…perhaps I should refresh my introduction, as it’s been about a year. My name is Benjamin Shields, and I am the Lead Programmer for Team 4206 The Robo Vikes. I’m pretty sure my last post here was about a year ago, about the Dallas Regional. There are lots of reasons I’ve been glued to the computer – not only was I diagnosing electrical issues all day Thursday for inspection, but we ran into several mechanical issues often that necessitated code changes. So I guess I’ll start from the top.

And of course that means Kick-Off! Way back on January 9th, we hosted 8 or so teams at NCHS for the 2016 Kick-Off live stream. I have to say, of all the FIRST game reveals I’ve seen, this year’s was the most spectacular. Not only is the game just downright cool, it looks great too! FIRST’s partnership with Disney seems to a beneficial thing. Well, anyway, the reveal video we got straight to analyzing and planning. We broke into teams and put together complex scoring charts, summaries of the rules, and strategies for advancement in the rankings. After we made sure we could comprehend all of the information in the 100+ page game manual, we started looking at design. It quickly became clear that a hardy drivetrain could handle several of the defenses on its own, and that a simple manipulator could give us access to the Cheval de Frises and the Portcullis. After much discussion and a few more days of meetings, we had developed a clear path forward. Over the next week, Kyle worked constantly on CAD, Zane and his crew on building a practice field, and everyone else on prototyping of various mechanisms. We wanted to develop a feeder, a shooter, and a manipulator of some kind. Everyone settled in for the long haul that is the 6 week build season…

…and how short it was! I gotta jump in time quite a bit here, because build season was crazy busy, and I’m honestly not sure what went on for about half of it. It was filled with hard work and late hours and good food and wonderful parents and mentors and coaches. We certainly owe them a lot for all the time and money they put into us being able to work when and how we wanted to. A very special thank you to our parents.

So, eventually build season culminated with Bag-and-Tag, and we resumed the daily toil of our lives…everyone took a day or two off, we rebooted our academics, which were running on life support, and we started preparing for the Alamo Regional. One thing that had become clear in the last week of the build was that our steel frame wasn’t going to work. It was too heavy, and our robot wouldn’t pass inspection unless we could cut that weight down. The steel frame itself was a particular bit of pride – it was welded in house by our machinists and fabricators. What we needed to replace it with was an aluminum frame, which we unfortunately did not have the capability to weld in house. So we sent off for the work to be done. By the Friday before, we had the aluminum frame in the shop. By our calculations, the frame and the electronics and the shooter could all fit within our withholding allowance, and therefore could be brought to competition and added to the robot. Weighing the aluminum frame confirmed this, and all seemed set for the regional.


This is the first in a series of posts about the Alamo Regional that will be published daily on and after 3/15/16 until the story is complete. Thanks for reading!