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Robots shooting goals? It must be the FIRST competition

By April 13, 2010

Enterprise staff writer

Soccer-playing robots built by high school students competed in two days of fast-paced action at the UC Davis Pavilion earlier this month.

Citrus Circuits, the Davis team coached by Da Vinci High math teacher Steve Harvey and mentored by UCD engineering student Michael Corsetto, made it to the quarterfinals before falling to stiff competition during the event.

They were up against 37 other teams in the annual FIRST Robotics competition, which was started in 1989 by Segway inventor Dean Kamen as a way to engage high school students in the field of engineering. If the Davis team is any indication, he achieved that end.

Da Vinci senior Therese Dill just may have changed her career goals because of the competition.

ÒGrowing up, I always wanted to go into biology,Ó she said. ÒNow, I found out I really love engineering, and IÕm wondering if I want to go into that instead.Ó

Dill was one of 10 Da Vinci students on the team, joined by five students from Davis High School.

Team captain William Carson, in his third and final year on the team, said heÕs enjoyed the fast pace of the competition and the work involved in building the robot.

ÒI enjoy working with metal,Ó he said, Òcutting it and putting everything together.Ó

Team members built their robot out of materials provided by FIRST Ñ the same materials every team receives Ñ plus some of their own. Back in January, all of the teams received identical kits containing small motors, microswitches, joysticks and single-board computers. Teams then purchased and fabricated their own chassis, mechanisms and circuit boards to be used on their robots.

The resulting creations on display at UCD illustrated no end of unique features.

ÒThereÕs always a ton of variety, which is really cool,Ó Corsetto said.

Six weeks after building their robots, teams had to pack them up and ship them off to the site of their competition Ñ in this case, UCD.

It was a crazy six weeks, students said.

ÒWe worked 20 or 30 hours a week for six weeks,Ó said Davis High junior Peter Wang.

They pretty much gave up their weekends and many weekday afternoons, Harvey added. ÒWe put in as many as 300 hours getting ready for the competition.Ó

The team had to build a robot that could kick soccer balls across a 50-foot field and score in a four-foot-wide goal. For bonus points, teams could design their robots so they could hang at the end of each match on a tower in the middle of the field. The field also featured multiple obstacles, meaning the robot had to be able to go over and under them to get around.

During several matches, that proved a challenge. A number of robots attempting to cross a raised berm ended up toppling over and becoming useless for the remainder of the match. Others suffered penalties for being overly aggressive against the competition.

Competing in an alliance of three teams, Citrus Circuits dropped the first of the best of three quarterfinals matches to an opposing alliance, then had to do some quick repair work.

ÒOne of our more delicate parts came off and we have to try to get it back on,Ó Carson said as the pit crew took over and did their thing.

The team, now in its sixth year of competition, had high hopes for this year and members were disappointed when they dropped their second match in the quarterfinals.

ÒMaybe next year the team will do better,Ó said Carson, a Da Vinci senior.

Harvey, who has coached the team all six years, plans to return.

ÒIÕll do it until I burn out,Ó he said. ÒI havenÕt burned out yet.Ó

He would like to find more sponsors for the team, though Ñ they could use the money.

Other teams at the competition displayed sponsors ranging from Lockheed and Chevron to NASA and Google.

ÒWe lack those big sponsors in Davis,Ó Harvey noted.

The team was sponsored by locally based Schilling Robotics and received the bulk of their money from Da Vinci High School Ñ which contributed the $5,000 entry fee Ñ and the Da Vinci Boosters Club, which kicked in another $2,500.

ÒWithout those two, we wouldnÕt have been able to go into the competition,Ó Harvey said.

Ñ Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at (530) 747-8051 or [email protected] Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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