The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

The Hawkeye

The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

The Hawkeye

The student news site of Mountlake Terrace High School in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

The Hawkeye

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Robotics team over comes challenges and exceeds expectations

Rodney+Budden
©HAWKEYE image credit: Rodney Budden

Members of Terrace’s FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team, 1778 Chill Out, celebrated the conclusion to one of their most successful competitive seasons in recent memory on April 25. Overcoming multiple technical issues, Chill Out skyrocketed through the rankings, taking home two district champion banners.

FRC is a competition where teams engineer robots to score points according to an annual game. The game for 2023 was called “Charged Up” where teams place cubes and cones into certain areas of a multi-tiered grid to score points. With the challenge released on Jan. 7, 2023, teams would have only three months to design, prototype, build, program and practice for the competition.

For their first event of the season at Glacier Peak, Chill Out’s robot arm broke the day before the competition. Then on competition day, they had radio connectivity issues, meaning the robot could not be controlled. For the first nine matches of qualifications, the team could only watch their robot sit still on the game floor, apart from the autonomous portion of the match which the team worked on programming the day of.

“We were working with a bunch of teams that were trying to help us – one of the helpful mentor/technician people there that was trying to help us get started,” team captain Gavin Leach said. “And eventually what ended up fixing it was we got a spare part from the Royals, team 2522 from Lynnwood High School.”

By the 10th match Chill Out managed to get the radio working, but it was already far into quals. They would finish the round with a 2-10 record.

After the qualification round, top teams select other teams to form “alliances” of three to head against others. 

To the surprise of many in Chill Out, which had ranked near the bottom, they were selected by the first alliance which consisted of top ranked team 2910 Jack in the Bot from Jackson High School and the second ranked team 2930 Sonic Squirrels from Glacier Peak High School.

“This was special because they really showed us our value in the bot not working,” member Cyrus McMillion said. “We didn’t have our arm working like it was supposed to, and they were like, ‘take that damn thing off, it’s extra weight.’ So we took the arm off and we became purely a defensive and low-scoring bot.”

Their alliance would win every match after.

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Gearing up for their next event at Bonney Lake, Chill Out began working on a new arm design. 

  With competition fast approaching, the new design proved unsuccessful and they decided to again compete without an arm.

“We weren’t discouraged,” Leach said. “We knew what we had was a good enough system so we were gonna keep running with it. We spent about the entire week before doing only drive practice and programming which allowed us to build up a very strong autonomous… We were performing very fast cycle times, we had very consistent balance, we had a very consistent autonomous. And that helped us out greatly. It meant even though we didn’t have the full capability to be able to score high or middle like many of the other teams at our competition did, this sole practice of being able to drive and to do what we did fast, effectively and consistently – that was what our robot was.”

Excelling in the qualification round, Chill Out became the third alliance captains. With team 2522 Royal Robotics, which had helped them at Glacier Peak, and team 3393 Horns of Havoc from Puyallup High School, they beat out the first alliance and won the event.

After the event, Chill Out again worked on improving their robot.

“We decided being able to make cubes on the middle and high levels would be beneficial for us as an alliance member and expand our abilities, so we decided to add a shooter that would allow us to shoot cubes onto those levels,” Leach said. “And we were able to get that designed and tested very fast and almost immediately so we just had to go through the process of actually getting the parts and putting them on. Once again, a week of programming and drive practice.”

It would be the Pacific Northwest Championship held at Cheney, Washington where luck would turn against the team. According to Statbotics.io, which tracks FRC competition statistics, Chill Out had the third-hardest strength of schedule composite score.

“Statbotics had a simulation of us being ranked 36th. Instead we ended up ranking 12th,” Leach said.

After quals, Chill Out was the second pick of the eighth alliance, which had team 360 The Revolution from Bellarmine Preparatory School and team 3218 Panther Robotics from Bonney Lake High School. In the double elimination round, Chill Out was kicked to the lower bracket from losing to the first alliance, beat the fourth and second alliances then lost again to the first alliance by a point difference equivalent of single game piece.

“By no means was either our robot or our alliances’ robots weak, in the sense that we did very well,” Leach said. “It just ended up being a really weird schedule. We likely would have been semifinalists at that event.”

Chill Out had qualified to compete in the world FIRST championship held in Houston, Texas but ultimately decided not to go.

Expected point average over matches played from Statbotics

“There was a lot of discussion about this,” Leach said. “The main thing that we wanted to focus on was sustainability of the club. That was one of our biggest goals this year was to make a club that was sustainable for years to come. Going to worlds this year, we would’ve had to spend pretty much our entire budget to get there. And we decided that going to worlds to compete with what would likely be a small team – something that wouldn’t be everyone there any ways – was both against sustainability and lacks the real interest of going to compete with your team. If you’re not with your team it kind of lacks meaning.”

Captain Gavin Leach was thankful for their mentors including Kathy Leach, Steve Winckler, Sean Finerty and Tim Leach as well as the entire team for their success this year. Team member Simon Branch especially praised Gavin Leach for design and Kyle Winckler and the entire drive team.

Team member Lilia Maas noted the dedication of members who often spend multiple hours a day, days a week, for months on end working in both preparation and during build season on the robot.

“Build seasons are long and they’re a huge commitment, but everyone has really come through here and they’ve shown that they’re loyal and they’re hardworking,” she said. 

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About the Contributors
Jakob Nacanaynay, Hawkeye Staff
Jakob Nacanaynay initially joined HSM to be more involved in the MTHS community and express his opinions. As a member of HSM, he most enjoys learning about different perspectives that stray from the mainstream. Jakob is also an officer of the TSA club, participating in events from video game design to debate. He also enjoys competing in cybersecurity competitions with friends. While he has a wide range of interests, he finds the communication and organization skills learned in journalism transfer well. After high school, he plans on attending a major university to study cybersecurity.
Rodney Budden, Graphics Editor
Rodney Budden is a senior at MTHS and is the graphics editor of The Hawkeye. He joined in his freshman year in order to expand his horizons, as well as make a few new friends. This year, he aspires to help newer members of the team and hone in on his drawing skills. In his free time, he likes to play the drums and collects band shirts as a hobby. His favorite bands are Mastodon, A Perfect Circle, and Type-O-Negative. He also enjoys traveling to new places around the state.
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