Picture an arena packed with chanting fans. The floor is a flurry of activity. Teams huddle together. Coaches and captains bark orders. The best moments bring standing ovations, fist bumps, and group hugs. The worst moments bring witness to people who are crestfallen to have failed in spite of their efforts.
These aren’t traditional sports competitions. These are robotics competitions and they are huge among high school and college students. In fact, there is a good chance that your local schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, and colleges have active robotics teams.
My cousins got into one and I was proud to serve as an “advisor” to their project and help them put a lot of things together (and get a good sitting on the Big Day, huh).
To put it mildly, the amount work that goes into preparing for one of these competitions is quite impressive. Watching different teams and action, and you’ll be impressed by the work ethic and self discipline these teams employ. The process of preparing for a robotics competition is pretty impressive and I’d like to dwell on it a bit further.
Each robotics competition is centered around a specific challenge or set of challenges. These might include stacking items onto racks, launching balls into goals or over barriers, or climbing over obstacles. Each year, organizers come up with new challenges. It’s imperative to know what will be on the table. In most cases the information is announced in advance, but some organizers still love to add a “secret” extra challenge the teams do not know about.
There is no such thing as a perfectly competition ready robot. Every robotics team needs to be prepared to make field repairs and tweaks to ensure that they get the best performance possible out of their robots.
In addition to this, teams should always count on event organizers to throw them a curveball. These are last minute challenges that are designed to force teams to work on the fly. If you have trained your robot to do just one thing properly, it may not win in the long shot.
This may seem frivolous, but it really is important. The best robotics teams are truly cohesive units, and that is how they present themselves to others. Work together to select a team name, uniform, and team colors.
In a strange way, robotics can be a bit like professional wrestling. Teams, even robots develop personas. This is all in fun, but it does a lot to keep the crowd excited, and to get teams appropriately worked up and ready for competition.
While there is an overall environment of friendliness, this is a competitive and intense field. Competing in some of the great robotics competitions around can lead to trophies, scholarship money, and notoriety.
Rather than jumping right into the competitive side of robotics right away some people learn the lay of the land by joining robotics clubs as non competing members, viewing competitions as spectators, or attending a computer tech camp to get prepared. These are great places to learn and build skills before you enter the arena.
One thing that established teams can do is mentor up and coming or younger robotics enthusiasts. This can be an effective way to maintain the competitive advantage a team has developed while still helping others make their own mark in robotics competitions.
Good robotics teams always have an idea of what their competitors are up to. Some of this information comes by way of doing research before the big day. In fact, many competition organizers publish an a list of teams, team members, and past accomplishments. There is also a lot that can be learned simply by watching other teams compete or their demo videos on YouTube.
Don’t worry. It’s not creepy. Other teams will be checking out your team as well. Remember that the overall atmosphere of robotics competition is friendly. You are more likely to find people who are eager to share notes than those who eye people with suspicion.
Just like players on a sports team each play a role, robotics team players have roles to play as well, and each is just as important as the next. Typical roles include:
- Marketers - Team members who get the crowd enthused and create an overall team spirit.
- Drivers - These are the folks who operate the robots.
- The Crew - These are the team members who show up with tools in hand, ready to keep each robot operational.
- Recon - These team members check out the competition and report back on any new developments.
- The Organizer - This is the team member who knows everything the team must do to meet the challenges of the competition. They ensure that everyone is where they need to be at any given time.
- The Spokesperson - This is the person who speaks for the group when they are approached by spectators who are curious about robotics competitions.
There are an amazing number of organizations that are sponsoring and supporting robotics competitions. If you’ve ever thought about participating, find a team and go for it. If you are simply curious about robotics, by all means go and check out a competition near you.