Gaining Traction

Excellence in the field has led the robotics team down a path of popularity and possible national prominence


photo by Bailey Fisher

Senior Omar Alinur of The Mechromancers maneuvers the team’s robot through the course as his teammates and a referee look on.

Few revisions are made to the rigid rule book of football. Touchdowns are still awarded six points; the goal is and always has been to guide the football through the defense of the other team. Imagine for an instant, however, that the rules were abruptly changed and the game became a challenge of scoring the most tackles rather than the most points.

In the world of robotics, changes of this caliber are a year round occasion, regardless of however many playbooks or tactics the team concocts in preparation for the original task. The games they face are intricate, varying in complexity each year.

“Game designers form new designs and challenges each year so we have to reprogram our robot to complete the specific goal,” Jacob Steinebronn, a freshman on the team Metal Morphosis, said.

Steinebronn noted that this year “presented the toughest challenge,” as they had to use Java rather than the Robot C computer program they were accustomed to, essentially forcing them to reprogram the entire robot to function. In addition, the tasks required the drafting of new strategies to amass the highest amount of points.

For the robotics program, adapting to the new rules each year is simply another part of an increasingly complex game of wits. Now more than simply an extension of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics activities, the robotics team has emerged as a competitive program rivaling sports staples like football in on-campus relevance.

Team members of the Mechromancers converse before a match.
photo by Bailey Fisher
Team members of The Mechromancers and Metal Morphosis converse before a match.

Team 4717, under the title “The Mechromancers,” comprise the robotics program alongside Team 4227, the “Metal Morphosis.” Initially, the program was host to a single team called “Kiss My Bots.” Since 2010, they slowly began to flourish and give way to the two groups – one of which would go on to hold a world record for weeks. With the success of The Mechromancers and Metal Morphosis on a local scale, now qualifying for a number of statewide tournaments, and, as of Dec. 19, on a global scale by setting world records, robotics has found itself in a spotlight none of the members would have expected.

The latter achievement would be one the team would bear with pride for the a long time.

“During a match we were paired with a team called the Pink Fluffy Bunnies, and, with their ability to scoop up all the debris, we got the points we needed to set a world record,” team sponsor Po Dickison said. “People were tweeting and instagramming our score the moment we got it.” Weeks later, their score was upended by a team in Michigan.

Each year presents a new challenge that seeks to bring out innovation within the competitors, hence the thought-provoking new theme of “First Res-Q.” In this game, the field is prepared in a manner similar to the site of a natural disaster. Cube shaped debris is placed throughout the ground, with random civilians scattered throughout the land. Bordering the scene of the event are two mountains that serve as more than simply aesthetic compliments in that they offer the chance for massive bonus points.

In this game, debris can be deposited in baskets for points, while opportunities for additional points arrive in the form of rescuing Lego figures who are “zip-lining” and ascending the mountain during the final 30 seconds. Once there, it is possible for the robot to be programmed to successfully hang on the pull-up bar and attain the bonus points.

The Mechromancers' robot successfully completes the additional task of ascending the "mountain".
photo by Bailey Fisher
The Mechromancers’ robot successfully completes the additional task of ascending the “mountain”.

“It’s really more of a game of the mind. Strategy is most important,” Dickison said.

After finishing in the top five in a  Jan. 16 championship, both teams advanced to a state tournament at St Leo College in Florida on Saturday, Feb. 13. They would each perform well at the competition against numerous opponents from Tampa. Metal Morphosis emerged a state champ, finishing fifth out of 24 teams. While only Morphosis qualified for a national competition being held on Mar. 9-11, the Mechromancers managed to do exceptional and place within the top 18.

Most members are drawn to the program due to its significance within the STEM community. Steinebronn said he enjoys coding and is interested in the engineering of robots. Others like Metal Morphosis sophomore Julian Mousseau simply find the concept of programming and robotics enjoyable. In all cases, an underlying interest in STEM leads the team members to joining.

Rather than reject their deep roots in the STEM society, the teams promote their relationship with the program through community service. Extracurricular activity is obligatory for their score, though both teams are interested in serving the community regardless.

“Some of the stuff we do includes hosting events with the purpose of bringing attention to robotics,” Steinebronn said. “We also have to keep notebooks on the events and make promotional videos for a major part of our score.”

Outreach events aid the group in getting exposure to the bustling community of STEM associated programs.

“What happens in the field is important, but what happens outside is just as, if not more, important,” Mousseau said.

As of now, the teams are gearing up for the upcoming national competition at San Antonio, Texas, where teams from throughout the states will vie for the win. With major regional accomplishments under their belt, the teams are confident in their ability to face whatever challenges will present themselves in the following weeks leading up to the tournament.