By Russ Steele
On a Sunday morning, the Folsom Intel campus parking lot was quiet, just a few vehicles scattered across the tarmac. My wife Ellen and I had come to observe the Velocity Vortex robot competition sponsored by Qualcomm and supported by Intel. Two competitors who are working together to promote STEM education opportunities for students.
As we approached the FM-7 Cafe, through a Courtyard, we could hear the rumble of voices spiked by cheers. Opening the Cafe door, we could feel the energy in the room roll over us. To our right were students cheering four robots, two red and two blue engaged in combat to see which team could score the most points. To our left a sea of tables with young men and women fine tuning their robots, and charging batteries, as they waited for their turn on the scoring field, a 12 x12 foot instrumented open box with 1-foot high plastic walls.
We were fortunate to find some front row seats, in the staging area where the teams wait their turn in the scoring box. This position allowed us to examine the robots and their creators up close and still see the action in the scoring box on a large projection screen. We saved some seats for fellow Sierra Economics and Science Foundation Board member George Rebane and his wife, Jo Ann. We had come to cheer on the Nevada Union Team, Acme Robotics, lede by Ryan Brott, one of the students in the SESF TechTest Mentoring Program.
Shortly after George and JoAnn arrived the Acme Robotics team brought their robot 8367 to the staging area, and we were soon surrounded by the supporting parents, grandparents, and the team’s mentors Mike Oitzman and Michael Lewis. Looking at the scoreboard it was clear 8367 was a strong competitor, having already won some of the early preliminary rounds of the competition. At the end of the qualifying rounds robot, 8367 was #2 on the leaderboard.
The scoring is complicated and a challenge to write about without drowning the reader in the details. For those interested, this video explains the scoring and the rules of the game, or check out the attached Velocity Vortex PDF Scoring Matrix.velocity-vortex-one-page
There are two phases in the live competition. The first phase is 30 seconds of autonomous operation, where the robot is controlled by onboard intelligence, followed by the controlled phase, where the robot is guided by an operator with a video game controller connected to an Android cellphone which was communicating with the onboard Android Phone.
The competition is more than robotic combat on the scoring field. As Mike Oitzman explained, the competition was set up to mimic a company start-up, where the students had to build a team, develop a plan, seek out funding sponsors, design and build their robot, and then develop a competitive strategy. Part of the evaluation is an assessment by the judges for the team demonstrating effective teamwork, creativity, good engineering practice and have a robust community outreach program.
The NU Acme RoboticsTeam, includes hardware, software, marketing skills.
- Build team: Kellen Bodine (lead), Shawn Rashby, John Convis (CAD)
- Software team: Ryan Brott (lead), Kelly Muir
- Outreach team: Ivy Brott, Thea Pelayo
While this was clearly a team effort to win a spot at the regional finals, the autonomous routine written by Kelly and Ryan was a major factor in winning more matches than the competition. They developed software that enabled the robot to position itself autonomously to capture the beacons on two sides of the scoring box.
Ryan said that mentoring by George Rebane, SESF Director of Research helped him to “gain some valuable insights” into robotic operations.
We could not stay for the final phase of the competition, leaving at the end of the qualifying rounds. The NU Acme Team finished the qualifying rounds in 2nd place and moved on to the semifinals.
“We easily beat the opposing alliance in the semifinals and went on to the finals where we unfortunately lost.” wrote Ryan Brott in an email. “The scores for both matches were very close (less than 15 points each). Fortunately, we received a prestigious [Innovation] award from judging that qualified us for the regional championships in three weeks.”
The Regional Championship will be held on March 22rd – 25th, 2017 at the ARC Pavilion on University of California (UC), Davis campus. They expect 55 teams to compete, with over 2000 observers. Ellen and I are planning to be in the crowd, cheering on the NU Acme Robotics Team led by Ryan Brott, an SESF mentored student.