My FIRST Journey
On January 14, 2017, FIRST Lego League team Xanterra, won the Northern Idaho State Championship. With the help of my team and coaches, Carol Lin, Emma, Caleigh, Caleb, Conner, Cole, Austin (team members), Josh Sherman, Chris Armstrong (coaches), Jamie Sherman, and Craig Wessels (mentors), we were invited to the World Championship Competition in Houston, Texas. This competition took place on April 18-22 and in preparation for it, we worked to improve our presentations and our robot game.
In FIRST Lego League (FLL), there are three main parts; robot game, project, and core values. Every year FIRST, the company that invented FLL, releases a new mat for the robot game. This mat has multiple missions made out of Legos on it and our job is to create a Lego robot and have it complete those missions. The robot is made mostly out of Lego Technics; this includes two different types of motors, multiple types of sensors, a robot programming ‘brain’, and a program that you can use to complete these missions with your robot. At the competition, we show the judges how we came up with our robot and show them some of our completed missions.
You also compete in robot rounds. The robot rounds are two and a half minutes long and in that time, you use your robot to complete as many missions get as many points as possible. The robot is completely autonomous which means there is no remote for the robot and the only way you can complete the missions is by using programs that you have previously programmed for your robot. The only time you can touch your robot is when it is in base but if your robot messes up and you have to grab it, you can but with a minus five point touch penalty. There are usually four robot rounds in total, one practice round, and three normal rounds.
For the project, FIRST gives us a topic. With this topic, we are supposed to invent something that helps the environment and relates to that season’s topic. For example, last year’s topic was Animal Allies. We had to come up with a way to improve the interaction between animals and humans. We then present our findings to a set of judges at the competition.
The Core Values are a set of rules, or guidelines that the teams are meant to stand by. There are eight Core Values in total and at the competition, you present the way that your team uses Core Values in and out of FLL to a panel of two to four judges.
We spent three months improving these areas and when it was finally time to leave for Houston, we were prepared. Almost all of our team was on the same 6:00 a.m. flight so, in order to get to the Spokane airport around 4:30 a.m., we woke up at 3:00 a.m. When we got to our gate, our team was there and waiting for us. We took a picture together and when we finally arrived in Houston, we rejoiced, happy to finally be at our destination. We went straight to our hotel to meet up with our team. That night, we went to dinner and went swimming in the hotel pool.
The next day was the first day of the competition. The team arrived at the George R. Brown Convention Center and were greeted by dozens of other teams. They were from all around the world, from Canada to New Zealand, we all stood waiting in front of the convention center, eager to get inside and start our first day of the competition. They slowly let the teams in and once Xanterra got inside, we headed straight for our pit area.
Every team has their own pit, a small space that they can decorate and show off everything they have learned; it sort of becomes your team’s base camp while competitng. We decorated ours with strands of ribbon and pictures of our team to show off our team spirit and then, we went and talked to the others who were arriving. The team split into two groups and walked around the pits, talking happily to the people who gathered. Everyone was so friendly and I loved meeting the new teams.
That first day, the only thing on our schedule was to set up our pit and get familiar with the area. We spent the rest of our day figuring out where our judging sessions would take place and what tables we would be competing at for the robot game. We went back to the hotel around 6:00 that night had a team dinner at Pappa’s Bar-B-Q and went swimming again.
The next day was busier than the one before. We had three practice rounds and all of our presentations that day. The three practice rounds really helped to prepare us for the real rounds the next day. Due to the different area, a few of the settings on our robot had to be changed in order for him to act the same as he would back home.
After the three robot rounds, we had our presentations. We had all three in a row and we all felt confident coming out of there, knowing we all did our best. That afternoon, was the party on the green, or the welcoming ceremony. In the park directly across from the convention center, there was face painting, a military simulator, and a silent disco. After a long day, a few of us had dinner together and once again, we all went swimming afterwards.
On the last day of the competition, we had all three of our robot rounds. They were spread out during the day so in-between, we would talk to other teams and wander around the center. At first, the robot rounds did not go so good but on our last round, our team managed to get our personal best score. At the end of the day, we all gathered at Minute Maid Park to end the season and to announce the winners of the competition. There were thousands of people there and we were all super excited.
After watching multiple FRC competitions, they announced the winners for FLL. The High Voltage Couch Bananas, a team from Southern Idaho and our friends, were in the top three out of all of the FLL teams in the entire world. Even though they did not get first, we cheered loudly for them and helped to represent the magnificent state of Idaho. As the season officially came to a close, I started to think about the next season. That night I asked Carol Lin, my best friend and Xanterra teammate what I had been thinking about all day.
“Do you think next season will be as eventful as this one has been?” She smiled happily and nodded.
“Definitely.” Carol Lin walked up the stadium steps and as I turned back around to look at the field, I smiled happily to myself. Thousands of FIRST members were leaving the stadium and remnants of the past season sat in the field.
“I hope so.” I turned around and followed Carol Lin up the stairs. As we headed home the next day, I started to dream about the next season; Hydrodynamics. I thought about my team and realized that these people had become more than that; they were my family.