Robot scrimmage tests students’ skills

Nov 24, 2019

On Sunday, the Dartmouth High School cafeteria rang to the sounds of gadgetry and cheering as the school’s robotics teams completed their first scrimmage of the year.

Acton-Boxborough High School was invited to compete against and form alliances with each of Dartmouth’s two teams in turn.

The teams — made up of robotics club members of all different ages, from freshmen to seniors — are preparing to compete in First Robotics’ First Tech Challenge, which offers a tournament in which teams play games in an alliance format. 

Sunday’s scrimmage gave all three teams a chance to practice the tasks before their qualification tournaments in January and February.

If they do well they will go on to the state tournament in March.

“Every year they introduce a new game in September, and it’s completely different from the previous year’s game, so that you have to completely redesign your robots,” said club advisor Sam Brodsky.

This year’s game is called Sky Stone and involves moving and stacking blocks of a specific size in particular locations, using various obstacles and features of the game board. 

Each action wins the team different points.

All of the teams buy the same game set when the games are announced and the rules are broadcast at parties in September. 

“The whole idea of it it’s like varsity sports for the mind,” said Brodsky. “The idea is that we’re going to have engineering held to the same standard of interest as we do sports. That’s the goal.”

The cost of entry is not cheap, so the students asked for funding from the Dartmouth Education Foundation as well as other local sponsors.

“The kids wrote all the grants,” said Brodsky. “They’re a great bunch of kids, they even actually dug up a lot of the sponsors that we have themselves. They went around asking businesses. They’re very driven kids.”

He added that this year the robots were in great shape. “We have two running robots,” he noted. “This might be the first time we had two working robots during the scrimmage.”

Co-captain of Dartmouth team ‘Consistently Inconsistent’ Michael Anderson said the scrimmage went “really well.” 

“We did run into some problems with our linear slides,” he noted. The linear slides are what allow the robots to stack the bricks.

“We didn’t really stack anything, we just kind of threw it on there,” Anderson said with a smile.

“Overall, we did better than I thought we would,” he added. “Yes, we had our flaws, and yes, it’s not supposed to be lopsided like that. But it still managed to score some points.”

In fact, Anderson’s team was the high scorer of the day.

“We did not expect that at all. Quite the opposite,” he laughed.

But both of Dartmouth’s teams won the same number of matches.

“There’s always someone better than you. There’s always room to improve,” he said. “But I think we’re doing pretty well overall. We’ve got a lot of good people.”

Nick McMaster, co-captain of Dartmouth’s other team, the ‘Alumineers’, agreed.

“It did pretty much what we thought it was going to do,” he said of his team’s robot. 

Dartmouth’s teams could end up competing against each other or as allies, depending on how the brackets and matches are set up.

“Obviously we’re really friendly with our other Dartmouth team,” McMaster said, adding that the two groups often help each other out.

“We’re pretty even right now,” he noted. “They’re going for a slightly different design...So it’ll be interesting to see later on in the season.”

Sophomore Emma Gifford was cautiously optimistic. “We still have some things to work out, but I think we did pretty good overall,” she said.

This is her first year in the competition. “It’s a lot of fun,” she noted. “I just generally enjoy building and programming. I just find it interesting. But it’s also a lot of fun to do with your friends.”

“I like the communication between teams talking to each other, everyone helping each other out,” said freshman Ian Hamlet, who did robotics in Middle School. “It’s a nice balance between fun and serious.”

And as for Acton’s team, the Dartmouth kids had only good things to say.

“This is their first year [in the competition], and they did great,” said Anderson. “We worked well together, they’re nice people. I think they’ll do really well.”