Dreadbots: Dexter volleys up plenty of success at Washtenaw Area Pick-Up Robotics event

By Audrey McMichael

Nine teams fielding 12 robots prepared for the 4th annual Washtenaw Area Pick-Up Robotics (WAPUR) event on Saturday. WAPUR is a pre-season event unique to Washtenaw County with the mission of teaching new members of local robotics teams how competitions work.

The competition began in 2016 with a very informal event just between a few schools who were sharing build space and wanted to give their newer team members a chance to experience the thrills and stress of competition in a smaller, more casual environment. In 2017, the event moved to Forsythe Middle School cafeteria, where a larger make-shift robot field was constructed from carpet and tipped over folding tables.

About eight local teams participated and had a great time.

In 2018, the event moved to the Ann Arbor Public Library (AADL) downtown branch, where they somehow crammed a full robotics playing field onto the ground floor between shelves of books.  Many regular library patrons were very surprised to see dozens of robots loudly battling in what is usually a very quiet place, but more than a few stayed to watch the competition.

The game for this year was based on a game of volleyball where the robots have to toss a (giant) yoga ball and get it on the other team’s side to earn points. This year the event took place at the University of Michigan sports Coliseum, and one of the biggest sponsors for the competition was the AAPL.

Other organizers included Keith Liebetreu (mentor for team #3322 of Skyline H.S.) and John Behrendt (mentor for team #830 of Huron H.S.). When asked why the library would choose to sponsor and provide for a robotics event when resources are limited, AAPL deputy director Eli Neiburger replied: “We are trying to expand the idea of what a library can do. Most people think it’s just a room with books, but the library can also help the community and we really think the FIRST program is great.”

Carnage on the Playing Field – Photo by Graciela Demerath

One of the main challenges this year was a new rule that stated that one member on the drive team had to be new to be a first year. This meant that the drive teams were inexperienced with little practice. Expectations were that with all the new drivers, the competition was going to be a bit hectic, and that turned out to be true.

Although the Dreadbot team drivers were inexperienced, they were ready to drive. The driver I talked to before the match was Megan. When asked how she thought she was going to do she said: “I’m pretty nervous, but I think I will do well because of all the practice we did.”

Most of the drive team members felt this way which was understandable given the pressure put on them. When it was Megan’s turn to drive, the match was going well and the drivers managed to get the Dreadbot robot to pick up the ball and throw it over the net (no other robot was able to do that during the entire competition). With 30 seconds left on the timer, Dexter’s robot got stuck on top of the yoga ball and popped it just as the match was ending.

The referees decided that the popped ball didn’t interfere with the match and decided to not replay the game. The whole team sighed with relief because of how well they had done in that round. The robot was pretty damaged from falling off the ball, but the Dreadbot pit crew worked quickly to fix the ball scoop before the next match.

This year the event organizers came up with a bonus challenge for the teams that was revealed only half an hour before the event started. This year’s challenge involved putting two ping pong balls on the field and it was the robot’s job to get them in a small hole in the ramp. The teams were given a few materials to use such as wooden yardsticks and duct tape. The teams could then use the challenge to earn extra points. The Dreadbots were successful in getting the ball in the small hole during one of the matches giving us a few more points.

One of the Dreadbot robots ended up on the first seeded alliance for finals competition. Dexter rushed to the field for the first match. The Dreadbots played hard during the match and a few more yoga balls died.

Although the robot suffered a drive-train failure, the team was proud of what they accomplished. The scoring was close between the two final alliances and came down to a narrow win for the other alliance. The winning teams and Dexter’s new drivers were congratulated for all the hard work they put into the competition.

This year’s WAPUR event was an overall success and the Dreadbots can’t wait for the 2020 season to start.

MAIN PHOTO: The Dreadbot Drive team Prepareing for the Match. Photo by Gerry McConville

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