by Amanda Meritt
Today, teenagers are able to design, build, program, and test a functional robot in six weeks. Sounds impossible? Well, HB girls have been doing this exact thing since 2008, and this year has been the best one yet. Hathaway Brown’s team, Team 2399 or better known as The Fighting Unicorns, works under a program called FIRST that encourages kids grades K-12 to get interested in STEM. The Fighting Unicorns compete at the highest level of FIRST, the Robotics Competition (FRC), in which students grades 9-12 are given a challenge in January then build until mid-February to compete around the world in March and April. The highest achieving teams get a spot at the Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. This year’s challenge was called Recycle Rush. The game is played with two alliances of three robots each, divided by a six-inch tall step. Robots have to stack as many grey totes, green recycling containers, and pool noodles as possible before time is called. Robots also have the opportunity to work together and gain as many as forty extra points by cooperating with the other alliance and stacking four yellow totes onto the dividing step. The Fighting Unicorns began the 2015 season with the largest team in history—twenty-eight girls and six mentors. During pre-season (September-December), under the leadership of the team’s co-captains, sub-team captains, and mentors, rookie team members were trained in the sub-team of their choice (Programming, Mechanical, Electrical, or Business). On January 3rd, the group headed off to HB to watch the reveal and subsequently began brainstorming ideas for the robot. For the next six weeks, the team met after school to 3D-model, build, wire, and program the new robot. The build season ended with Winter Weekend (which the team has dubbed “Epic Weekend”). Team members gathered at 10am and stayed till midnight during Epic Weekend to add finishing touches to the robot and to test. The finished robot (named Helena of Troy) stands five feet, eight inches tall, weighs around 116, and features two functional lifts with interchangeable attachments. The team’s first regional competition took place at the California University of Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. There, they competed against 53 other teams to try to qualify for the playoff matches. On a win-loss basis, the Fighting Unicorns did extremely well, but unfortunately because rankings were based on average points-scored, the team did not make it to the playoff rounds. However, at the end of the last day, the Unicorns took the Engineering Inspiration Award. According to FIRST’s website, the Engineering Inspiration Award “celebrates outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school and community.” Earlier in the year, the team did a lot of community outreach, including putting on a demonstration for a local FLL team, working with Boys Hope Girls Hope, and, like every year, working with Hathaway Brown eighth graders. Not only is winning this award a huge honor, but the receiving team is also granted a spot at the Championships. (Fun Fact: If you watch the video footage of when the team won the award, they are so loud that the videographer had to cut out the audio). The Fighting Unicorn’s second regional took place at our very own Wolstein Center in Cleveland. This time, they competed against 55 other teams. The competition proceeded very similarly to the Greater Pittsburgh Regional until the playoff alliance selection. Each of the top eight seeded teams picks another two teams to compete with them in the playoffs. The Fighting Unicorns were selected by the second seed to be a part of their alliance. Each member of the alliance had their position; one team built stacks of four totes each, another put pool noodles into the green recycling bins, and the third placed the bins on top of the stacks. This proved to be an extremely effective strategy, because the alliance then advanced to semi-finals. Unfortunately, The alliance fell short of moving on to the finals by a single average point. The Fighting Unicorns are currently strategizing and making improvements for the Championships and are thrilled for the adventure that awaits them in St. Louis.
This April, the robotics team ventured to St. Louis, Missouri to compete in the World Championships, the first time the team has ever done so. In the Championship tournament, robots were grouped into divisions of about 75 teams, and the winners of each division go on to compete on the Einstein field and battle for the title of World Champion. This year, FIRST added an additional four divisions and a second Einstein field. Each division is named after a famous scientist or engineer (Archimedes, Carson, Carver, Curie, Galileo, Hopper, Newton, and Tesla). We competed in the Tesla division, one of the four new divisions, along with teams from the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and Mexico. We left Hathaway Brown in style; a charter bus at 5:45 in the morning with muffins in hand and more bottles of water than should be legal. We wrote thesis papers, slept, ate, and sang our way through ten hours before arriving at our final destination at about 4:00 in the afternoon. As if we hadn’t waited long enough, we then had to brave the registration line. Finally, at 5:45, we had our badges and were allowed to enter the stand area and get our robot in practice matches, which lasted well into the evening. Because he had driven for ten hours, our bus driver couldn’t bring us back to the hotel. Fortunately, we hired a super classy bus (think fancy leather seats and Frank Sinatra) to take us back. At the hotel, we dined on chicken, garlic bread, pasta, and unicorn cookies. The next day was filled with excitement: qualification matches, opening ceremonies, and the long awaited RoboProm. In the pits, teams worked on their robots and passed out things from 3D-printed pins to little plush koalas (so cute!). Matches were held in the same manner as during regional competition, so we felt right at home (except for the average ten miles a day walked by the entire team). Opening ceremonies began right after the last qualification match and included a singing man that no one knew, enough paper airplanes to build a life-size airplane, and speakers from Monsanto, the United States Air Force, and even FIRST founder Dean Kamen himself. The most awaited part of the day was RoboProm. Championships fall on prom weekend for many schools, so a few years ago a team from Missouri decided to fix this by hosting a prom for attending teams. There was a lot of dancing, singing, and more cookies than one could imagine as well as a vast array of attire including street clothes, over the top elegant dresses, ladies’ tuxedos, and Star Wars costumes. The final two days brought the last of the qualification matches (another five for us), alliance selections, and another team average of ten miles of walking per day. On the fourth day, unfortunately, we were not selected for the elimination matches, but we enjoyed watching the final matches and walking around the Edward Jones Dome and the surrounding St. Louis area. Next year, the Fighting Unicorns will be working very hard to go back for a second time at Championships. It was an experience none of us could possibly forget.