New Camera For Our Robots!

2mp-hd-security-cameraFor the 2016 FIRST Robotics Competition challenge, Stronghold, team Northern Force is planning to use an imaging system. This 2 Mega-pixel IP Camera has built-in infrared illumination and can operate over a range of high resolutions and frame rates which will be helpful in optimizing bandwidth with our software interface. At some point in the feature we hope to use the camera over wifi using an access point as explained in this wireless ip camera setup guide. Northern Force’s programming team is developing image-processing algorithms that will help the drive team target boulders at the opposing Stronghold tower!

Somewhere in New York

The Internet and I have not been getting along, so no posts Friday and Saturday. Sorry!

Friday we had 4 qualification matches, resulting in 3 wins 4 losses overall. Saturday we lost our match in the morning. At 10:30, we were… not selected for an elimination alliance.

Not much of a surprise. We ended up 70-something in Archimedes. While it would have been nice to play a few more rounds, we weren’t exactly expecting to be pick, so it was no great disappointment. Instead, we packed up, got lunch, and then watched some rounds from the stands. For the drive team, these were among the first matches we had watched. It’s a good long walk from the pits to the stands, so we hadn’t made it many times.

Division elimination took most of the afternoon, but eventually the winners of all four assembled on Einstein, the final field. Einstein matches were interspersed with speeches and the awards ceremony. We were pleased to note that our adversaries from Manchester, Team 610, had risen to the top of Galileo division.

The final matches took several hours, all told. Arthur and I had a nice vantage point of the field. We and the Team 172 (Buzz) students cheered 610 on… probably confusing their drive team in the process. We’re happy to say that team 610’s alliance won! Which means we can now say that we didn’t win Manchester, but only because the World Champion robot was there.

But wait, there’s more! Team 125 (Nutrons) and Team 4761 (Robockets) rode down from Boston together, but their bus broke down Saturday. So, in addition to our own members, we have about a dozen Robocketeers aboard the bus with us. It’s cramped… but I’m happy to report that I slept even better on the floor than on a seat (and no one stepped on me–thanks, guys!).

We’re now about 18 hours into the trip back, and expect that it will be at least 6 hours before we get to exit 46. On the bright side, we’re definitely bonding.

See you tonight!

No, we’re not dead

Ahem. For those of you who haven’t heard from your children in over a day, we have yet to lose, maim, or kill anyone!

Today was a busy one! We started off early… the alarm went off at 4:55, and we were at the dome by 7:00. Our one practice match in the morning went quite well, and we even managed to recruit a safety captain! (Thanks, Joey.)

In the afternoon we had 3 qualification matches. Win-loss-win. We’ve been struggling with jamming the shooter. This may sound like a familiar problem, but this time it’s because of the flicker (we think) rather than because of the wheel slowing.

I am thrilled to say that our misfire problem has finally bit the dust (knock on wood), with the installation of a solenoid that blocks jerking shots. Flicker 4.0 also appears to be doing its job (though clearly it’s about to become Flicker 4.1, since we may have to tweak it a bit more to fix the jamming.)

The pits are a bustling little city–though there is probably more free stuff available than in your average city. There are buttons, Frisbees, pencils, candy, and knick-knacks of all varieties.

There are also a bunch of teams–to borrow the term–“from away,” and by that I mean far away. There are Israelis, Germans, Russians, Mexicans, Canadians, Chinese, Koreans, and more scattered throughout the FRC, FTC, FLL, and Jr FLL pits. As well as English, I’ve definitely heard German and Spanish spoken by various teams.

Tonight we’re headed off to the Bamboo Bistro Buffet (or something like that), along with the Frog Force, another team staying in our hotel. (Hi, Frog Force!)


Somewhere in Ohio

Good morning everyone!

I think I’m the only one thinking “good morning,” since I think I’m the only one who slept well. Apparently having extensive experience dropping off in random positions is a plus for bus rides. We’ve been up for about two hours now, so most of the grumbling has worn off.

We stopped around 8:00 for breakfast, and were on the road again around 9:00. Now, at 10:00, it’s raining pretty good. We were in Ohio when we stopped. I think we still are. Regardless, we’re making good time (thus the extended breakfast stop) and expect to be in St. Louis in plenty of time.001

The Catan game is (finally!) over, and the people around me have switched to Minecraft (and a variety of other games.) Thanks to plugs, no one is terribly bored, that I can tell.

Mom, I forgot my swimsuit. So far I have everything else I might need. 🙂

St. Louis – The Journey Begins

Well, we’re off! The bus left at 3:25.

An hour in, we have not yet killed each other/died of boredom.

Highlight so far: there are in fact power plugs aboard! Not many, but what is a robotics team without power strips?

So far — the Catan game on the window is encountering difficulty; the card game in front of me appears to be going well; WiFi has disappeared twice (hopefully I can post this!) and someone brought the entire Avengers franchise with them, or nearly so. It’s playing now.

Everyone’s stuff fit under the bus, along with all our robot-related equipment. 002

No, Mom, I haven’t thought of anything I forgot yet.

Lewiston – Friday & Saturday

It’s been a good season. Let me tell you about it.

Friday was, as anticipated, eventful. We had serious issues in the morning with our Frisbee flicker, resulting in very few successful shots. Turns out we’ve been pretty hard on our friends the Vex motors. In the afternoon, we managed to patch together a solution that worked for the rest of Friday and all day Saturday. However, we also had issues with misfiring whenever we were jolted–either by a defensive robot, or by running over Frisbees. NOT GOOD!

Friday might not have been our best day ever, but it did have its highlights–namely, that we won the Innovation in Control Award! Now, you’d have to ask someone who actually knows what he’s talking about why we deserved this award (*coughprogrammerscough*), but from what they tell me it’s because of our use of the camera and this blueberry pie thing. (Relax, relax… I know it’s a raspberry pi, not a strawberry pie. Though I do wish it was a la mode.)

Ahem. We are, of course, very proud of our programmers, who have worked hard for this award and definitely deserve it. That’s not to say that we won’t still blame everything on you guys, but as my mother says… “You can’t have everything and curly hair.” Whatever that means.

Anyway, we ended up ranked 19th–dead average, by the numbers, in a field of 38. Still, we were optimistic. Better to be broken and then fixed than fixed and then broken. We figured we’d make it to elimination. I mean, c’mon, we’d probably handed out about a hundred of those scouting sheets, and they told the world that we were finalists at Manchester. Looking for a decent robot? I’d take a finalist most days, especially from a Cinderella alliance.

I was surprised, though, when we were picked (first pick!) into alliance 3. Not a bad deal! We accepted (our scouting strategy was “YES”), and moved into quarterfinals.

Well! We did pretty good in the quarterfinals. We won the first, lost the second, and then won the third. It wasn’t an easy round, but our drive team did good work.

The semis, unfortunately, were a different story. After misfiring repeatedly in the first match, which we lost, we moved on to the second match. One of our alliance partners tipped early in the second match, and after that we pretty much didn’t have a chance. So we packed up, bagged up, and are getting ready for St. Louis.


Lewiston – Thursday

Thursday has come and (nearly) gone! It feels odd to be at a second regional, but sleeping in my own bed.

From a competitive standpoint, the day was good, but not great. Remember, Thursday is a practice day… scouts are generally not watching the matches (at least, not closely,) but they’re combing the pits. Many teams are trying to get their robots working. Others are tweaking.

We had issues with our Frisbee Flicker. It had issues with jamming… we still scored in most matches, but then it would stick. Turns out giving it a good hard kick (or running it into the wall) usually solves the problem… temporarily. But we think it is fixed now. Knock on wood.

One highlight of the day was the new feeder mechanism! It’s simple–a piece of plastic that swings backward, creating a ramp up to the feeder station. Loading accuracy has gone from maybe 60-70% to 100%. Yippee!

Things will heat up tomorrow, as the rest of the team arrives and the competition really begins. Go Northern Force!

Manchester Review

Well! As I didn’t post each day (sorry–sleep happened instead), I’ll give you a quick overview of each day as I remember it.

Thursday –

Thursday is all about practicing. None of the matches count for qualification points, and the scouts (at least on our team) are mostly looking for potential. If/when you have a working robot, it’s also a chance for a LOT of practice. You get scheduled times, but if another team misses their slot, waiting and ready robots can take their place.’

It’s also the day to get inspected. Volunteers in yellow hats weighed us, measured us, checked for sharp protrusions, and verified our bill of materials and driver station software. We had to update our driver software, which caused us to miss our first match, but we made plenty of others!

By the end of the day, we were fairly pleased with our robot performance. Thursday is too soon to have a great idea of how competition was going to go, but we thought we’d have a chance. We were able to both shoot from near the pyramid (we started on the center rear bar) and from near the feeder station, into the 2 point. Given the relatively low accuracy of the 2 pointer, we decided our default strategy would be 3 point shots–we couldn’t do as many, but more would go in.

One team we noticed Thursday was Team 610–the Coyotes. They spent the day at the feeder station firing rapid 3-pointers–and getting them in! We knew they’d be heavily defended during qualification rounds because of that (they were pretty short), so we kept an eye on them.



Friday is all about trying to get a good competition ranking. The rankings don’t tell the complete story, so it’s also about performing well for the scouts–doing our best in wins and losses.

We ended the day with just about an equal record. I’d have to look at a competition schedule to be certain of our exact win/loss record, but we were again optimistic about our chances. We were also ranked 13th–not high enough that we thought we’d be picking, but high enough that we thought that other teams’ scouts would be looking at us.

It’s hard to summarize everything that happened Friday–it was an intense dayOur first round was shaky, but after that the drive team started working together really well. We discovered that having the shooter deck part way up helped Alden (the human player’s) accuracy at loading Frisbees, though some changes to make this process easier and faster may still be required. He turned out to be pretty good at scoring the colored Frisbees during the end game.

We found that scoring from the right corner of the pyramid was actually easier & faster than the center, as well as more accurate. Who knew? One of our greatest features was our autonomous mode–it worked like a charm! Thanks programmers! (Wow… I’ve thanked programmers twice this season! I think that’s a record!)

Max did great work as our main source of scouting information (thanks Max), but we couldn’t have done that without everyone who scouted during their allotted times and gathered all that data. Thanks 58 for the opportunity to collaborate! We were able to use that information to play smart in each of our matches–sometimes we’d play all offense, but often we were able to reroute a robot to playing defense on our toughest opponent.

The theme of the day was: knock on wood! We knew we were doing well, but, superstitious people that we are, it was hard to think optimistic thoughts without fear of jinxing it. So every time we said something optimistic, we also said “knock on wood!” and rapped the robot a few times.

Friday night in the hotel we had a scouting meeting in which we went down the qualifications list, compared with our scouting data, and decided on some robots we’d like to ally with if we were in a picking position, or were a 1st round pick and needed to influence the 2nd round pick. 


In the morning, we lost two rounds and won one. This dropped our ranking down to about 17. We ended up still being selected into the 7th seed alliance along with Team 61 (BVT) and Team 175 (Buzz). Alliance seed isn’t everything, but we weren’t sure we could pull off a victory and make it to semifinals. Drive team went into our elimination matches saying that the day had been successful regardless of the outcome. (And “knock on wood!”). We were more than a little worried, since both us and Buzz preferred the right corner for autonomous. However, a little practice match time revealed that we could, in fact, shoot from the left. Thanks Shreyas for realizing this was possible and convincing all us naysayers to give it a go!

Well! We had a lucky break our first match–Team 138 decided to play defense. They were a very tall robot, so quite by accident we knocked them over. Our robot and Buzz’s were able to get around it, and 61 was able to climb. We won handily, but it would have been much closer (and might have gone the other way) if that one thing hadn’t happened.

After that, we lost one and then won one. Semifinals! Needless to say, this was exciting. Again, we said “knock on wood,” “let’s do it,” and “regardless, it’s been fun.”

The semifinals were intense. We didn’t expect to win–but we won our first match. The drive team pretty much looked at each other and said, “Well, that was lucky,” followed immediately by, “Hey! We could actually do this!” and “Quick–knock on wood!”

Our second match we lost, but our third match we won. Even more significantly, we had a “perfect round” for our robot design. Sometime on Thursday or Friday morning, we’d figured out that a max score, given the time constraints, for our robot would be 3 trips (12 Frisbees), a 3-score autonomous, and a hang. We hadn’t yet done it, but we did this time!

And that is how we made it to finals. Needless to say, we’d gone from “happy” to “overjoyed” rather quickly.

Remember Team 610, from day 1? Well, they were the top seed and (I believe) undefeated. Their partners were 3609 and 4124 (Duct Tape Dragons and Integration by Parts [one of the Clarkson duplicates]). So we weren’t exactly optimistic about our chances of winning (knock on wood, even though that wasn’t optimistic–this might be a dream), but again we said, “Hey, it’s been fun.” Also, either way, we knew Maine would have a team at the championship, since Duct Tape Dragons are a South Portland team.

Well! Somewhere in there (anyone remember which match?) we managed to bend our drive screw on the pyramid which caused us to be stuck in place (nooo!). However, we soon realized that a) we didn’t have time to fix it, and b) it might be okay, since the screw was stuck in our normal shooting position. We just had to adjust slightly so our autonomous would go in. The angle difference is just 1 degree, so I doubt anyone in the stands even noticed our placement difference.

Our partner, Buzz, also ended up broken at the beginning of finals round 1. We were too late for a time out, but they were able to drive (just not shoot) during the round, so they played defense on 610. Unfortunately, another issue in the match caused them to spin uncontrollably for the first part. We pushed them out of our shooting slot, and sometime after that they were able to recover control of their robot.

The finals matches were exciting, even though we lost both. For a few heart-pounding minutes, we thought we might have tied the 2nd match. (Quick! Everyone pound on wood!). As it turned out, we didn’t; lagging disc scores meant that Alliance 1 was far ahead.

Still, it had been fun. We got farther than any of us had ever expected, and because of that we got a nice trophy and medals for all. I can confidently say that a) we were vital to our successes and that b) everyone had a part to play (scouts, pit crew, and everyone who cheered/gave high fives/shouted for us [seriously, you folks were really encouraging]).

But wait, there’s more!

At the awards ceremony, they gave out a number of awards in addition to the finalist & winner awards. And we won one–the Engineering Inspiration Award! This award recognizes “a team’s outstanding efforts in advancing respect/appreciation for engineering and engineers, both within their school and their community.”

This was completely unexpected–but very, very welcome. It means another trophy, medals for all, and a slot at the Championship, should we have the desire and the dollars to attend.

And that, my friends, is all. For now. We still have the Pine Tree regional, so we’ll be preparing with our practice bot for that. Check back soon–and in the meantime, knock on some wood for us.

Brainstorming Meeting

And we’re off! Today the whole team met to brainstorm.

First we talked about strategy… how we’re going to play the game overall. Everyone seemed to agree that both climbing and shooting were going to be pretty darn important. We have yet to figure out exactly how high we want to climb, or what we want to shoot toward.

Next we moved onto design–ideas on how the robot is going to do what we want it to. Most people thought it would be pretty important to pick up from the ground, though a few disagreed. Different groups had different ideas for pickup.

We were more unified on how to shoot. Here’s the video that started it all:

Looks good, but we’re going to need prototyping to see if it works for us.

We also split into sub-teams to choose captains and set work schedules.

All in all, this should be a great season! We’ll keep you updated.


Our notes from today… thanks Arthur for the pictures.