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Posted: 01/15/14


HARD AT WORK. Above, students with the Byting Bulldogs work on a prototype robot for the 2014 FIRST Robotics competition. From left, Brody Fulsher, Joseph Williams, Carter Zions, Steve Kaniuk and Sam Hein. Students have six weeks to complete a robot that can pass and shoot an exercise ball into goals.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Byting Bulldogs prepare
for FIRST competition

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Snow days usually mean free time for students, but the Romeo High School robotics team saw them as opportunities to put in some work.
       Team 3959, known as the Byting Bulldogs, is already one week deep into preparing for the 2014 season of the For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics competition.
       FIRST asks teams around the world to build robots that can compete in a specialized tournament. As teams compete they climb in rank, eventually making it to the World Championships in St. Louis.
       This year's competition puts a focus on working with fellow teams as allies. The goal of the 2014 contest, titled Aerial Assist, is to move a 25-inch exercise ball into high or low goals. More points are awarded for making a high goal.
       The game is complicated by multipliers for scoring in a lit-up goal, points awarded for tasks like passing the ball over a 6-foot truss, or by cooperating with allies to score a goal.
       Dan Gardner, head coach for the Byting Bulldogs, said the concept sounds simple, but building a robot to complete the tasks has been difficult.
       "We're getting into it, and we're going `wait a minute, there are a lot of challenges here in the design,'" Gardner said. "We're working our best right now to work through them."
       As with past contests, the competitions are split into two sections. The first 10 seconds is the autonomous round, where the robot operates without input from the driver. The remaining two minutes and 20 seconds are the tele-operation round, where the team takes control of the robot to score points.
       To stand out from the pack, the Byting Bulldogs is concentrating on a strategy that lets its robot be flexible in what role it plays with allies.
       "We want to be able to mesh and serve any role based on what our other two alliance partners need," Gardner said. "We can be a shooting robot, or if they can't throw it over the truss we can throw it over the truss."
       The team has completed the first week of six to build a robot. Students are in full gear with all aspects, whether it's programming, practicing wiring, designing it in CAD or building the prototype.
       Joe Smith, a 2013 Romeo High School graduate, is serving as a mentor for the team. As he worked on the prototype with students at RCM, Inc. on Jan. 10, he said a lot of factors need to be taken into account, such as passing the large ball around.
       "Logistically it's going to be a difficult game," Smith said. "We started off by testing several different launchers and several different methods of picking up the ball, but we decided on the ones that we believe will take us the farthest."
       He said to build a robot from completed designs takes about a week, but the design process takes up to four weeks. He said the groups will get together and hammer out details or findings.
       "We're refining it, we're fixing errors, and our prototypers are always working on the prototypes even as we're designing the robot," he said.
       In 2013, the Byting Bulldogs got a taste of glory by competing at the World Championships thanks to their robot's superior design. Gardner admitted the team would be disappointed if it can't make it back this year.
       "I know we're one little team out of Romeo, Michigan, but I want us to get to that final field," he said. "Only 12 robots make it to that field, and those 12 compete against each other for the world championship."
       Students share in Gardner's drive to make it back to St. Louis. Steve Kaniuk, a freshman, was a part of the team when it went to the championships. He said prototyping is going great thanks to the extra time afforded by snow days.
       "I think that gave us an advantage on some of the other teams," Kaniuk said. "I think this year is going to be a great year."
       The first regional competitions for the Byting Bulldogs are scheduled in March at Waterford.
      


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