Do You Want to Build a Robot?

The buzzer sounded signaling the end of the match. Spectators cheered the outcome: the Anacortes Cyborg Ferret’s Blue Alliance outscored the top seeded Red Alliance in Carver Division semifinal 1 at the 2017 FIRST World Championship playoffs in Houston. Nearly one hundred teams of the 400 participating would compete in the semis. In 2017, the World Championship was split into two full competitions in two different cities. The week after Houston, teams would battle it for World Champion bragging rights in St Louis. Team 3238 had finished qualifying round play with eight wins and two losses,  ranked 6th of 67 teams in their division. During alliance selection, they chose: Team 3339 BumbleB from Israel and Teams 1700 Gatorbotics and 2637 Phantom Catz, from southern California. After winning the first semifinal match in the best of three series, the Red Alliance defeated Team 3238’s Blue Alliance in the next two. The Anacortes Cyborg Ferrets ended their 8th season with their heads held high. It was their best season yet. A semifinal finish at Worlds placed Team 3238 in the top 3% of the 5,869 FRC Teams worldwide.

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, aka FRED (Fourth Rotor Execution Device), as this year’s robot is fondly known, from the members of Team 3238 Cyborg Ferrets. You exceeded all expectations.

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What is FIRST Robotics Competition? ‘Combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. We call FIRST Robotics Competition the ultimate Sport for the Mind. High-school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors.’

gg 5-2-2017 8-06-26 PM.bmpIn an award-winning documentary entitled Slingshot, Dean Kamen provides the story behind several of his inventions and his inspiration for founding FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics. Kamen says, “FIRST is an organization whose sole goal is to convince a generation of kids that science and technology and engineering actually is fun and accessible and rewarding and important.” He tells every kid he meets, “Figure out something you really love to do [and] get so good at it that you can make a living doing it. If you don’t do that, you’re cheating yourself out of a happy, meaningful life.”

Chrome Legacy Window 372016 92705 AM.bmp.jpgAlthough “FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded nearly 30 years ago, in 1989, to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology,” FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) came to Anacortes High School in the fall of 2009. Three years later, FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Team 7198 was added. In the eight years of FIRST Robotics existence in Anacortes, the organization has grown to include teams at the high school, middle school and, beginning in the fall of 2017, students will be able to participate in robotics at every grade level in every school in the District.

2017 February 380 X (1)-001On the 7th of January, FIRST revealed the 2017 FRC challenge: FIRST Steampunk. Teams were given six weeks, until midnight on the 23rd of February, to complete their robots. In Anacortes, subsystem teams of three to four students were tasked to construct: a chassis, gear collector, rope climber, shooter, and an electronics board. Programmers used Java programming language to produce 1,800 lines of code so that the robot could perform without human help during the first 15 seconds of the match, called the autonomous period and the driver-controlled teleoperated or teleop period.

About two dozen adults, ASD staff, parents, community members and robotics alumni,  mentor as many students on the FRC Team. At the pre-season mentor’s meeting, Coach Joe Furin explained the job of a mentor, “Remove obstacles.” Coaches supervise the entire endeavor and work out event logistics. Mentors help guide the students, think through the feasibility of their ideas, and answer questions. This includes providing public relations support for the robotics program, strategizing, design, construction, and multiple cycles of redesign and rebuilding of the robot as well as the pit, which is where the robot and several team members hang out between matches. When things go wrong, as when the gear lifter assembly needed replacement before one of the semi final matches at Worlds, students break out the wrenches and screwdrivers and fix the problem. Volunteers also help with fundraising, transporting kids to and from events, providing food during the build season, and making costumes.

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students 5-2-2017 1-06-45 PMA typical competition goes like this: robots arrive early for inspection. The two page inspection checklist includes: mechanical, electrical, pneumatic system and power on requirements as well as robot weight (≤ 120 lbs excluding bumpers, and battery), frame perimeter (may not exceed 120”) and height (starting configuration height may not exceed 54”). Once done, the pits and machine shop open, followed by practice rounds, opening ceremonies, qualification rounds, alliance selection, quarter finals, semifinals and, finally…finals! Each team is paired with two other teams on an “Alliance” that then competes against another Alliance. Your foe in one round will likely become a friend in a later one, so “gracious professionalism” is key.


18121627_843767279107502_8732904011662107753_oThe top eight ranked teams move on in the competition to Alliance Selection, becoming an alliance captain, which allows them to choose two alliance partners from the remaining teams (three during Worlds). Breaks in play, while volunteers reset the field and team members reset the robots, are filled with sporting-event-style cheers and chants. Participants and audience members dancing along the edge of the field to typical robotics competition songs like Gangnam Style and The Macarena.

If you or anyone you know is interested in joining an Anacortes FIRST Robotics team, please contact Mark Jenkins at or visit for more information about FRC Team 3238.

Note: Aileen Travis, Arlene Cook, Billie Buttram, Elisabeth Jenkins and Will Palmer contributed photos for this post.

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