Cherokee Robotics preparing to meet new challenges in 2017 competition

Jeff Bobo • Jan 20, 2017 at 10:30 PM


ROGERSVILLE — Cherokee High School’s Robotics Team faces a different set of competition challenges in the coming weeks as it attempts to build a new machine capable of carrying it back to World Championship competition.

FIRST Robotics, which sanctions scholastic robotics competition worldwide, changes up its “game” every year.

That means every robotics team in the world has to build a new robot capable of performing different challenges in an all new game arena.

One familiar challenge Cherokee’s “Lord of the Springs” Robotics Team faces year after year, however, is fundraising.

It will cost at least $7,500 to build the robot and pay the entry fee to compete in the the Smoky Mountain Regionals in Knoxville on the weekend of March 22-25.

If the team performs well enough in Knoxville it might earn a return invitation to the Robotics World Championship, which was held in St. Louis last May.

Last year it cost about $15,000 to get the entire Lord of the Springs team to the St. Louis competition.

Right now, however, the focus is on figuring out a solution for all the new challenges their robot will face in 2017, and getting the new robot built in time for Knoxville.

Last year the game arena had a medieval theme and there was a strong emphasis on crossing rough terrain and obstacles, launching projectiles into the opponents’ stronghold, defending your own stronghold and climbing a “castle” wall.

The FIRST Robotics arena for 2017 has more of an Industrial Revolution theme and is called “Steamworks.”

It’s based on the premise of collecting fuel and gears to build a steam-powered airship.

In the game, there are two teams of three robots, or alliances, that attempt to gather little plastic balls (the fuel), and deliver them into “boilers” at opposite ends of the arena.

Delivering the balls requires either shooting them into a high goal or dumping them into a low goal.

A team earns one point for landing three balls in the upper depository or nine balls in the lower depository.

They also must pick up plastic gears and deliver them to an “airship” in the center of the arena. The gears are assembled to turn up to four rotors, and teams earn 40 points for each rotor they are able to turn.

At the end of each contest the robots must climb a rope to board their airship, which earns an additional 50 points.

That means Cherokee’s new robot must be able to scoop, haul and shoot balls; scoop and deliver gears; and climb a rope.

Robotics team veteran Raiden Evans said the 2017 arena isn’t necessarily more difficult than 2016, but it’s definitely different.

He and his teammates are already working on ideas to accomplish each required task.

“Last year we could pick up one boulder, and we were trying to run as fast as we could across these obstacles,” Evans said. “This year we have to think of designs that have to lift and pick up and carry as many fuel balls as you can. That’s the hardest challenge this year, figuring out an efficient way of carrying these fuels.”

“There are already devices that do this, like paintball hoppers, and they’re practically the same. These balls are just much, much bigger, so you can scale the system that works on paintball hoppers or tennis ball launchers that have a big bin, so we’ve been looking at stuff like that.”

A major challenge will be shooting the fuel balls into the upper goal, which is similar to a basket and will require the shots to have an arc.

The team is working on a rapid-fire system that shoots a consistent trajectory to ensure they are putting as many balls as possible into the upper goal.

“If you want to get a lot of points quickly you’re going to have to shoot off more than one ball per second,” Evans said. “Maybe three or four per second. The best way to do it is just having a vertical wheel, and sucking it through the wheel and launching it up.”

“So far we’ve been mostly prototyping building the main components like the frame and all the electronics. The goal for this year is to get done two weeks early. That way we can have all the programming done for auto targeting the high goal so that we can be spot-on, and getting a lot of drive-time experience, because that’s going to be key.”

This is Cherokee’s sixth year in robotics competition. In the past the team has stripped parts off the previous year’s robot to save money, but Build Team captain Luke Morgan said the 2016 robot will remain intact.

“We could take it apart and use all the electronics and wheels and everything,” Morgan said. “But, where this was our first robot to make it to ‘World’ we kind of want to keep it like it is. This one has a special place in our heart now, so we don’t want to tear it apart.”

Lord of the Springs had several corporate sponsors last year including TVA, Eastman, Baldor and ZF TRW to name a few.

The team will be relying on those sponsorships again this year, as well as private contributions.

Currently, the team is about $1,500 short of making it to Knoxville, and hasn’t even begun chipping away at the potential cost of the World Championship.

“A lot of local people chip in $100 here and $100 there, and that really adds up and helps us out in the long run,” Morgan said. “But if we go back to ‘World’, that’s pretty expensive. We were in a rush last year to try to raise all that money.”

Anyone interested in contributing to the team’s 2017 efforts can call Cherokee High School at (423) 272-6507 during school hours and ask for robotics coach Jeff Hobbs.


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