Aces High Aims to be World Champ

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Photo by Lester Smith

Aces High pit crew members Kyle Mascaro, left, and Pranav Saravanan minister to the team’s robot between matches. The Power Cube grasper is at the left; its mount can slide far up the extendable tower track.

In the six weeks allowed for designing and building, the Suffield/Windsor Locks High Schools’ team in the FIRST Robotics Competition created a sturdy, capable robot and developed good skill in operating it. Aces High did very well in their first three meets.

In the team’s favor is the general high-tech environment of this region, and the very favorable circumstance that WLHS provides the team with a well-equipped meeting space and a competent machine shop including up-to-date computer-aided machines.

This year the team’s chief mentor is Peter Davis, the WLHS teacher in charge of those facilities in his day job. There are about 40 students on the team – high school level and a few middle school – with a majority from Suffield. They are obviously a competent crew.

What was announced on January 6 for this year’s game, “Power Up,” required a nimble machine that could grasp Power Cubes made of plastic-clad milk crates and deliver them onto three big see-saws: two called Switches, the third, at a higher level, called the Scale. Power cubes could also be deposited on the top of the Scale’s structure. A robot can gain points near the end of each game by climbing the side of the Scale to two different heights.

The game rules, scoring system, and associated strategy are complex. As usual, extra points can be achieved during autonomous action in the first 15 seconds of each match; the remaining two-and-a-quarter-minute portion of a match is played by human operators using remote control. Two three-team alliances face each other in each match.

Regional competitions open with a series of individual qualification matches with randomly assigned alliances, followed by a short period when the alliances for the elimination rounds are established. Then the serious play begins. It’s like March Madness, but starting with the “elite eight” alliances, and playing for two out of three matches at each level.

Because of a lack of field equipment from FIRST headquarters, the customary “Suffield Shakedown” scrimmage planned for mid-February didn’t occur. Aces High competed first in early March in Waterbury, where their alliance won the competition with over 40 teams competing.

Photo by Lester Smith

The Aces High robot deposits a Power Cube during one of the matches.

At Hartford Public High School in early April, Aces High performed well with the same alliance members who shared the Waterbury win, and they reached the final round of play on April 8. Unfortunately, one alliance partner’s robot suffered a power failure, so they lost the final round in just two matches.

With only two days to recuperate, Aces High headed for Boston on April 11 for the New England Championship. The team’s experience there, with 64 teams competing, was better than in Hartford. They won all the elimination rounds until the final and achieved a ranking of No. 4 in New England! Seems like a pretty good way to spend spring vacation.

At the Observer’s press time, these determined roboteers were packing for their foray to Detroit on April 24 for one of the dual world championships that FIRST planned this year. The other, in Houston, was scheduled to be complete by April 21. Both were to involve a great many teams, competing in several divisions on multiple fields.

Aces High has reached the world championships several times, and they are proud to have won in 1999. Lightning does strike twice in the same place. One can hope!

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