Saint Joseph District: Phenomenal Growth in 48 Hours

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Emotions were high as we left East Grand Rapids High School last Thursday night. We were headed to our first Robotics competition of 2018 in Saint Joseph, Mich.

We had been cruising along during the 45-day build season. We had even gotten creative with some advanced engineering for our elevator base — a lazy Susan apparatus that allowed us to rotate the elevator without having to rotate the robot. Things seemed to be going fairly well. Until about Day 39.

After countless hours of planning, designing, prototyping, and building our robot (which we appropriately named “Susan”), it became apparent that she was not going to make competition weight. So, during a middle-of-the-night Coaches’ pow-wow, we made the tough decision to cut weight by trimming our elevator. This meant that Susan would not be able to place cubes on the upper scale, and our Drive Team would not be able to complete one of the key competition tasks.

Frustrated, but not deterred, the team hustled to finalize every last thing before leaving for St. Joe. Even with an all-out effort to accommodate our new approach to the competition, we arrived with an overweight robot, unattached grabber arms, an unaffixed climber, and no working autonomous code. Let’s just say that expectations were low. Like this-would-be-our-worst-competition-ever low.

We spent Thursday night trying to piece together a functional bot. We swapped out the turret base plate from a full aluminum base to a machined-out plate to make weight. We attached the grabber arms. We affixed the climber. Still no autonomous, but we were close.

Friday started with a thud. During our first match, the autonomous carried us to the lower switch but went too far. The force of banging into the switch bumper dislodged our battery connection. We spent the next two minutes and 55 seconds doing nothing. By the third match, we were able to get the grabber arms working. We continued making little mechanical and electrical tweaks throughout the day, and we saw incremental improvement every match. Still, at the end of Day 1, we were 2-6 and in 34th place out of 40 teams. Not what anyone had in mind.

Our average score on Day 1: 258.

We mounted the climber Friday night, and went to bed hoping for the best on Saturday. And, wouldn’t you know it, something happened. It was like a switch went ON for our drive team overnight, and we won our first three matches Saturday, scoring an average of more than 400 points, earning 10 ranking points, and jumping up to 16th place. We became laser-focused on filling the nine-block vault and monopolizing the lower switch. We found a niche and a new strategy, and we exploited it to the hilt. That focused specialization made us a solid alliance pick: we could handle the vault and lower switch all by ourselves, leaving two taller bots to place and protect cubes on the upper scale.

Even though we lost our last match to finish 5-7, we did complete a climb, so it was an emotional victory nonetheless. We fell to 22nd place and hoped to be selected for an Alliance.

Our average score on Day 2 increased by more than 100 points to 382. We were trending in the right direction.

Thankfully, we were selected in second round by seventh alliance, with the 18th overall pick. As the seventh seed, not many gave us a chance against the second seed. But then we won the first competition, playing our best match of the day — placing a cube in the lower switch during autonomous, filling the 9-cube vault, and completing a climb. It was, as Coach Strodtbeck said, “one of the most exciting moments in the club’s history” given where we had started Thursday night. Then, we lost a close second match on just a few seconds of scale possession and malfunctioning climber. Unfortunately, we just ran out of gas in the third match, and we lost the quarterfinal 1-2.

Despite an early exit from the playoffs, the Coaches were ecstatic with how much improvement took place in just 48 hours. “We totally exceeded expectations,” said Coach Strodtbeck. Our team also won the Entrepreneurship Award for our Business Plan, scoring us an additional five points.

Even with all the challenges, no one ever got down. “It was a credit to the team for staying positive,” said Coach Dills.

“I thought the pit crew came together in a very stressful situation,” said Clara Luce ’18. “The robot didn’t turn on the first morning of the competition. Somehow, we figured it out by working together and supporting each other.”

In the spirit of “Never Stop Improving,” the coding team hit the practice field for 90 minutes right after the competition to hone our autonomous performance. We can now deliver a cube to either side of the lower switch, and we have a goal of delivering two cubes during autonomous at our upcoming matches.

“Our focus going forward will be on autonomous and the vault,” said Coach Dills. “Other teams can forget about the vault and let us handle it. It’s a model we’ve seen work in championships at other events: each robot becomes a specialist in a certain function on the field. It makes us a great Alliance pick.”

The team is excited to head to the West Michigan District next weekend. And, we go into next tournament knowing who are as a team, with an identity and a role. West Michigan is the competition we won last year, bringing home our first Blue Banner. Our fingers are crossed that we can make another good run and qualify for the State Championships.

We are striving to win a Spirit Award next weekend, so please come out and cheer on our team. The first 20 EGRHS students who come out to cheer and stop in the pits will receive a free EGR Robotics T-shirt. See you next Saturday!

— Jeff Couzens, Business Team mentor


Kickoff Event and Game Reveal

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In January, Team 5980 watched the reveal of the 2018 FIRST game, FIRST Power Up, at the SalesPad office building of coding mentor Matt Williams (father of team member Ethan).


The event began with a little fun in the spirit of Power Up and 8-bit gaming. Sponsors were able to bring several 1980s arcade games into the office: the line-up included Super Mario Brothers, Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong.


After having fun with these games, the team sat down to watch the game reveal. In FIRST Power Up, teams have to grab “power cubes” and place them on a switch and/or a scale in order to take control of it. Teams gain points for having control of the switch and/or the scale for an amount of time and can stop the other team from scoring by taking control of their switch.


During the first 15 seconds of the match, the robots are autonomous. During the autonomous period, robots attempt to cross a line to earn points and to place a power cube on their switch to take ownership of it. Teams can also place power cubes into “portals” through which the human player can take the power cube and place it into the vault. The vault contain three columns, and placing a power cube into one of these columns allows an alliance to activate one of three power-ups.


The power ups are Force, Boost, and Levitate. Each one allows an alliance to gain an advantage during the match.


  • Force allows an alliance to automatically take control of their switch, the scale, or both, depending on how many power cubes are in the vault when they activate the power up.
  • Boost doubles the amount of points the alliance gets for having ownership of the switch, scale, or both.
  • Levitate allows one of the alliance robots to get points for hanging without having to hang.
During the last 30 seconds of the match, alliances can hang from a bar to earn 30 additional points. Teams earn two ranking points for winning a match, one for a tie, one for taking ownership of their switch during the autonomous period, and one for all three robots climbing the tower at the end (or two robots climbing with the Levitate power up activated to face the boss).


After the presentation was concluded, the team broke up to read the rule book on our own. We did this for about an hour, then we split into groups of two to review the rules and strategy. After meeting in our groups of two, we met as a whole group to discuss what we discovered and thought was interesting.


To see a video explanation of the game, check out this LINK to the reveal video.



West Michigan Invitational

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October 28, 2017.

On October 28 the team head- ed over to Zeeland West High School for the West Michigan Robotics Invita- tional. This event was attended by elite teams such as FRC 2767 Stryke Force, 2017 St. Louis World Champions, and FRC 85 B.O.B., winner of the 2017 Mich- igan State Championship Consumers Energy Division. This competition was another good opportunity to get new kids on the team, both rookies and veterans, involved with the pit crew and drive team. At the conclusion of the qualification matches we were 4-1 and ranked seventh overall. During alliance selections we became captain of the sixth alliance with FRC 3875 Red Storm Robotics and FRC 5502 the Cobrots as our alliance partners.Though we lost both quarterfinal matches it was still a good final hurrah for our robot Louie. Unfortunately we faced some challenges with the robot. Some of the talons are getting old and therefore weren’t functioning, so we had to transfer the remaining talons to ensure that the climbing and gear mechanisms worked. This meant that we couldn’t intake or shoot balls for most of the tournament. Since our ball shooter was useless, Mrs. Jeanne DeRoseau, a team mom, bought an ugly stuffed animal named Zelda. For fun we put Zelda in the shooter and zip tied her in during the quarterfinal matches (she didn’t fall out!).