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Class of 2017
Sunday, April 23, 2017

Redbirds, Dragons, and Greek Gods: Allentown & Robbinsville Move on to FIRST Robotics World Championship

By: Liam O'Toole and Elizabeth Olshanetsky (from FRC1807)

Upon thinking of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, statistics, and precise surveying, few exciting implications come to mind. Yet, for the scouts of Robbinsville Robotics Team 2590 Nemesis (named after the Greek goddess of retribution), these words serve an essential role during robotics competitions across the region and country. Head scouts Jared Glassband and Jared Miller - affectionately referred to by team members as “The Jareds” - worked around the clock during last week’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships, cataloguing opposition robot data acquired by teammates during matches.

Across the field, on the other side of the stands in Lehigh University’s Stabler Arena, the 23 members of Allentown’s Redbird Robotics cheers as it makes its comeback; a “phoenix rising from the ashes” lead by PLTW teacher, Robert Tackett.  After eight years of near misses following a win at the 2009 New York City Regional, Tackett’s team’s hard work and concentrated, collective efforts paid off on April 8, 2017, they qualified for the FIRST Robotics Mid-Atlantic Region (MAR) Championship at Lehigh University. Like Nemesis and the other 58 teams present at MAR, 1807 finally saw its efforts come to fruition.

Around the world, FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams have only six weeks short weeks to design, virtually test, fabricate, and ultimately assemble the parts to create their robots.  Following this build period, local teams compete on the district level to qualify for Regional Championships during March, with regional winners advancing to the World Championships in St. Louis, Missouri.

Steamworks, the challenge for the 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition, places teams in an industrialized Victorian-era motif wherein they collect gears to power airship rotors for points. Additional points can be gained upon the delivery of wiffle balls, known as “fuel,” to boiler-goals from the robots.

During qualification matches, teams work together in randomized alliance trios until the final rounds of the competition, when alliances are selected and led by the top eight teams. The alliance with the highest score wins the match, while the winning teams advance in ranking.

Astounded, the twenty-three member Allentown High School team scaled the regional ranking ladder from 54th to 2nd with a record of eleven wins and only one loss.  As such, 1807 became an  Alliance captain, selecting Team 2590 “Nemesis” of Robbinsville, NJ and Team 3929 “Atomic Dragons” from Philadelphia as their partners for the Final matches. Due to cooperation backed by data provided by scouts, each robot featured a unique design that strategically complemented each other, a strength that carried into the elimination rounds.

Allentown FRC 1807’s simple, effective design along with a cyclical, speedy strategy revolving around gear placement produced cinematic chases up and down the playing field, weaving between opponents and alliance members. With the assistance of Sam Kohler, driver Joey Sofia maneuvers the robot across the playing field through all obstacles. When the robot reaches the other end of the field, Tommy White adroitly slides the gears into the robot from the feeder station. Immediately, the robot glides back to the pilot station where Jared “Skiddy” Skidmore lifts the gears to power the airship rotors. At the end of each match, 1807’s bot spins its axle and swiftly scales the climbing rope for 50 crucial points.

The Atomic Dragons, FRC 3929 from Philadelphia, PA focused also focused on gear placement, expediting the alliance’s three rotor strategy. Their amazing driver Kazi Tasnim, backed by drive coach Andrew Yarovoi and operator Celestina Saven, then played a fierce defense, blocking the opposing robots from reaching their feeder station.  

Alliance partner FRC 2590 Nemesis utilizes a comprehensive robot design created to address all aspects of Steamworks, perfectly complementing the rigid defense strategy by 3929 Atomic Dragons and the recon by 1807. Nemesis’ specialty is rapidly shooting fuel into the boiler during the Autonomous Period - the first 15 seconds of each match - for double points, as programmed by Connor Hofenbitzer. Driver Dahany Choi then lunges to the controls, racing the robot across the field. Swiftly swerving around robots and obstacles alike, he collects gears off the ground with the robot’s award winning “dustpan” gear intake. Coach Harsha Pavaluri, constantly on the lookout for gears scattered across the field, directs Dahany’s attention as he swoops in and steals them from the opposing alliance. Above all the commotion, Niratjot “Strongman” Grewal hoists the gears up onto the pilot station and puts them in place to turn the rotors.

The alliance ultimately won the championships, undefeated in elimination rounds, after a close match of 460-446. “Once we entered the finals, that’s when I realized we could win.” said Joey Sofia, sophomore and robot driver for 1807. “[Winning] was really a sort of David and Goliath moment for us.”

The win at MAR Championships marks the third time Nemesis takes home the title, and the first time for Redbirds Robotics and Atomic Dragons. Nemesis won the Industrial Design award for its innovative and creative expanding box to hold fuel and finished first in MAR rankings. Redbirds finished 5th and the 3929 Atomic Dragons finished 7th among the 120 MAR teams.  

Redbird Robotics, Nemesis and the Atomic Dragons will be traveling to St. Louis on April 26 to compete against 600 other FIRST Robotics Teams across the world. However, financial matters have recently become conflicting for teams, with expenses for registration, shipping, and travel.. Redbirds Robotics stated that there are students on the team who are unable to pursue the opportunity due to the high costs. Redbird Robotics and Atomic Dragons continue to actively seek donations and sponsors for financial aid via their pages.

Redbird Robotics also stated that “they could not have made it this far without their sponsors, Bristol-Myers Squibb and United Technologies.”

Support local robotics teams Robbinsville Robotics FRC 2590 and Allentown 1807 Redbird Robotics by watching the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championship in St. Louis, streamed live April 26-29, 2017 on!