Stronghold – Westtown

The Krypton Cougars arrived at their second competition with only one obstacle standing between them and total domination: themselves. The new pickup system (also known as the old shooter) had been designed without measuring if a ball sitting on the floor would touch the intake wheels. Testing revealed that the new metal base-plate would hit the ball first, knocking the ball away repeatedly. After much deliberation, and a sometimes contentious discussion about what shape the cut should be, the team decided to cut off an inch from the front.

With their robot now even more unstoppable than before, they had it weighed and inspected. Once their radio was configured to be plugged into the field, they got in line for their first practice match. Finally they reached the front of the line, eager to test their new design. “Sorry guys, that’s all the matches we have time for tonight.”

Undeterred, they returned the next morning and stood in line again. When they finally played their long-awaited match, the new arms performed as anticipated, getting hit early in the match, bending the shooter and causing significant damage to the robot. Back in the pits, the team decided that making the same mistake a second time wasn’t quite enough. They removed the angled intake bars from the aluminum arms, leaving only two short tusks in front. Since each tusk was one-inch-square, the pickup mechanism’s width was now approximately the same as the ball, making collecting a ball from the field nearly impossible. The team saw that their pickup design was good and took the robot to the practice field to see how great their shooter was.

The team stood, waiting by the field as team after team tested their robots. “Where are we on the list?”

“List?”

“Yeah, the list where you sign up for a time slot to test your robot. You did sign up for that?”

“Oh.” The team reserved for a time slot and eventually tested their shooter. They scored two high goals, out of dozens of attempts, and their joy was beyond containing as they shouted for joy while the other teams stood silently for the national anthem.

Practice time was over and the main event began. In their first match, the Krypton Cougars got off to a great start, easily clearing the defense in front of them, and slamming full-speed into their opponent’s wall, an effective, if unplanned, intimidation technique. Delighted, the team scurried into line for their second match.

The second match was equally successful, with another intimidating autonomous, until a head-on collision with an opposing robot sheered through two aluminum brackets like they were tissue paper, leaving the shooter hanging by its wires. Without enough time to fix the brackets before their next match, the team used bungee cords to strap the shooter to the robot and went back on the field. Unfortunately, they neglected to strap down the duct-taped-on limit switch, and left it laying on the field like a deceased orange long-tailed rat.

Their next match wasn’t until after lunch. They worked feverishly to make new brackets (They hadn’t brought replacement parts). Far too quickly lunch was over, and matches resumed. Their match approached and the team continued reattaching the parts they had disconnected. The match before theirs began, and the team still hadn’t finished. Duct tape and zip ties flew as the team strapped down every loose piece they could find. It was time for their match to start, and the team deployed code to the robot as it rolled towards the field.

When officials finally made them stop working on the robot, it drove well and the shooter worked, mostly. After the match, the team found that the limit switch had come unsoldered again. They re-soldered it, but then the arm would only move down, until it reached the bottom switch, at which point it wouldn’t move at all. The team checked the top limit switch, but it wasn’t closed. Figuring it had short-circuited, they removed it entirely, but the arm still didn’t move. Closer inspection revealed solder between the solder pads, creating a tiny short-circuit. The team melted the solder off the pads, but didn’t have time to attach the limit switch before the next match.

Having now unsuccessfully soldered the limit switch three times, the team decided to rotate the gearbox so they could see what they were doing. After loosening the belts and disconnecting the output shafts, they rotated the gearbox until the solder pads were on top. Now able to actually see what they were soldering, the limit switch attachment was successful.

The team celebrated with cookies, which they took to the track field behind the high school. There was a large pole-vaulting mat on the field, with yellow warning labels on every side indicating it should not be stood on while covered. The team jumped on it happily and talked about how there was nothing that could be done to make their robot any more perfect than it already was.

In its next match the robot did not cross the defense in autonomous, and the drivers received a yellow card for being on the field when it wasn’t safe. Back in the pits,  the team realized they had no electricity. The battery charger was not charging batteries and the laptops were going to sleep. While event staff were summoned, the drivers complained that they had lost connectivity with the field, and hadn’t been able to tell the robot which autonomous program to run. They decided to reboot the driver’s station in the hopes it would correct the flaw.

It did not. After some deliberation, the programmers decided that rebooting right before a match would be better. That seemed to work, which was unfortunate, because the autonomous mode they chose was untested and the robot slammed its shooter into the low bar at full speed, rendering the shooter inoperable for the rest of the match. The team immediately took the robot to the practice field and tried to replicate that failure. Fortunately, mentors intervened and suggested that it might be worth testing without the obstacle until the issue was fixed. The programmers tweaked the code as their laptop batteries died, and deployed a fix for autonomous mode just before forced hibernation.

The robot performed well in its final match of the day. The team brought it back to the pits, excited at the great day they’d had. That’s when someone pointed out that the top limit switch was beside the shooter instead of above it, negating its protective abilities, and allowing the shooter to slam repeatedly into the top of the robot.

The next morning the team returned to the field, ready to cap off their glorious performance. In the first match, the robot sat quietly during autonomous. Once the driver took over, he could only turn right. Halfway through the match he threw up his hands and walked away, leaving the robot on the field without an operator. A programmer took over and moved the arms up and down a few times, but the robot remained jammed between the field wall and a defense.

Fortunately, a friendly judge noticed their plight and helped them properly connect the driver station to their robot. In the next match the robot behaved in a more pleasing manner and left the field without any complications.

As the last match of the competition neared, the team decided they needed a grand finale to cement their position in the minds of other teams. They wished to leave no doubt that they should be chosen for the playoffs. Fortunately, they had just the thing. They prepped the robot to shoot a high goal. Considering that they weren’t reliably hitting the goal on the ground it was a bit ambitious, but the team knew they needed a big finish. They started the match with the ball and drove down the field, positioning themselves eight feet in front of the goal. The carefully lined up the shooter, moving it up and down, and rotate the robot carefully into position. When they were sure it was perfect, they launched the ball.

With the tap of a button, the launcher sprang into action. The wheels spun and the ball flew upwards, spinning majestically under the fluorescent lights. It bounced harmless off the side of the goal and rolled away. The team parked their robot by the tower, with more than forty-five seconds remaining, and waited for the end. No one picked them for the playoffs.

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