FIRST Impressions

Okay, so the game is nothing like anyone expected. Like this is something new.

This year’s game, "Aim High," is like a robotic form of Basketball. Six robots (three on three, red vs. blue) will be in a field 26′ x 54′ (7.9 x 16.4m), trying to get 7" (18cm) diameter Poof basketballs (think Nerf foam rubber covered in a rubber skin) into one of three goals, located at either end of the field. Balls thrown by robots into the center goal, which is a 30" (.75m) hole in the wall 8-1/2′ (2.6m) high, score three points each. (The center goal has a bright green light over the opening, so that the robots can target the goal optically.) There are also two single-point goals, located at floor level in the corners of the field; balls can be pushed or thrown into these goals by robots, or thrown over the 6-1/2′ (2m) safety wall and across the field by the "human players." Up to eighty (80) basketballs are in play during a 2-minute 10-second match.

In the first 10-second period of a match, the robots are autonomous: no human control is allowed. The team that scores the most points this way gets a 10 point bonus and plays "defense" for the next 40-second period, trying to keep the other team from scoring points. The teams then switch roles for the third 40-second period. Complicating this is that only two of the robots on defense can actually block the robots on offense — one of their robots must stay on the other side of the field, collecting balls or setting up shots. In the final 40-second period, all robots are in play, and can score or defend as they wish. Lastly, at either end of the field is a 4′ x 11′ (1.2 x 3.3m) platform 1′ (.3m) high, accessible by a 30-degree (π/6 radian 😉 ramp. Bonus points are awarded for robots on the ramp or platform (i.e., not on the carpet): 5 points for one robot, 10 for two, and 25 for three or more.

The robots themselves are quite large: no more than 60"h x 28"w x 38"l (1.5 x .7 x 1m), 120lbs (54kg), and are powered by a single 12v battery (which itself weighs 17lbs / 7.7kg!) Once a round begins, robots can unfold themselves to become larger, so long as at no time are they larger than a 5′ (1.5m) cube. Yes, this means that they can NOT place a ball into the center goal with a robotic arm (which would have to be taller than 5′ high); the robots must somehow throw / fire the balls through the air!

As with all recent FIRST games, a lot of the fun is in the alliances. Teams get randomly assigned alliance partners (the aforementioned red team or blue teams), and are pitted against another alliance. Your opponent in one round may be your partner in the next, so willful damage to other robots may come back to haunt you. In either case, intentional harm to another team’s robot violates one of the fundamental precepts of FIRST, which is "gracious professionalism." A nearly impossible to precisely define term, gracious professionalism means that while all teams compete to win, they also treat each other with the highest level of respect, so that no one ever feels like a loser.

Oh, yeah, the robots must be shipped, in crates, towards the places of competition (33 regional competitions around the US, Canada, and Israel) no later than midnight on February 21. 44 days and counting!

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About Mr. I

After 17 years as a PC Software Engineer I gave it all up in 2000 to become a High School Computer Teacher
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