Robotics takes Idaho

FTC Blackhawks ‘Inspire’ in Idaho

Black Hawks, the Hood River Valley High School First Tech Challenge robotics team — all seniors — won the Inspire Award at the Idaho State Championship Feb. 15.

The team competed in Idaho voluntarily as an additional competition in addition to the upcoming Oregon state championship March 2.

“We won the first-place Inspire award, meaning we basically won the tournament and were one of the three teams (out of 34) to qualify for the West Super Regional Championship,” said team member Marten Sova.

The Super Regional takes place at McClellan Conference Center in Sacramento, Calif., March 20-22; 72 teams from 12 states will be there. Team Blackhawks decided to compete in Idaho to increase their chances to make it to super regionals, according to advisor Jeff Blackman.

Also on the team are Taylor Cramer, Tony Cohn, Marcus Crouch, Naomi Greenwald, Delia Dolan, Sam Wiley, Connor Dunn, Josh True and Martin Lanthaler.

“We are all super stoked to have won state. Those of us who have competed before (Sam, Connor, Marten, Taylor, Josh) have been to Oregon State before but never won,” Sova said. “Now we can go to regionals, and we have a shot at accomplishing our goal of qualifying for the World Championship in Atlanta.”

The Blackhawks’ robot, built out of premade aluminum components and custom-made components, completes a variety of tasks. During the 30-second autonomous period it uses an IR sensor to seek out a randomly placed IR beacon, and drops a plastic cube in a box above it, then parks on a bridge.

In the two-minute driver-controlled period, the robot drives around collecting plastic cubes four at a time and dropping them onto a teeter-totter with boxes on it. It also raises a flag, and hooks onto a metal pull up bar and lifts itself off the ground.

But the Idaho victory was more than what the team and its robot did on the course.

“The judges were especially impressed with our community service,” Sova said. “We visited local elementary school classrooms during spring 2013 to introduce LEGO robotics to young kids, taught a weeklong summer camp for Lego robotics (profits went to the high school robotics program), taught two weekend advanced programming classes to train adults and children in more advanced programming such as using variables and line following, to prepare them for the FIRST Lego League competition.

“We helped organize the Hood River FLL tournaments and our team hosted the HRVHS FTC qualifying tournament,” he said. “We also helped the new middle school team by building their playing field, and mentoring the kids and coach throughout the competition season. (See a video of highlights at

“Also, our teammate Josh was involved in securing the $500K engineering grant.”

“This formally judged award is given to the team that truly embodied the ‘challenge’ of the FTC program,” Blackman said. “The team that receives this award is chosen by the judges as having best represented a ‘role-model’ FTC Team.

“The Inspire Award Winner is an inspiration to other teams, acting with Gracious Professionalism (an official FTC term) both on and off the playing field,” Blackman said. “This team is able to communicate their experiences, enthusiasm and knowledge to other teams, sponsors, and the Judges. Working as a unit, this team will have demonstrated success in accomplishing the task of creating a working and competitive robot.”

The Blackhawks’ robot is programmed in “RobotC”, mainly by Taylor Cramer with help from a local software engineer at Aerovel, Andy Crafts. According to Sova, interesting programming features with the robot include:

n Turns are controlled by a gyro sensor, so if you want the robot to turn 45 degrees to the left, you just program it to turn until its turned 45 degrees, as opposed to figuring out how many rotations each wheel has to make. This eliminates variability due to skidding on the ground

n Rotation drum with a brush on the front to sweep in blocks — the drum has one brush on it that has to be facing away from the robot for the bucket to lift up. It has an encoder on it so it always stops in the exact right position so it’s never in the way.

The team is beginning fundraising for driving 10 team members plus several adults to super regionals; costs include the $500 entry fee, plus gas, lodging and a van rental, for a total goal of about $3,000.

About ‘Inspire’

In past seasons, the winner of the Inspire Award at each tournament level has received an automatic invitation to the next tournament level. Once a team has won an Inspire Award at a Championship, they are no longer eligible to win the Inspire Award at additional championship tournaments they may attend. Similarly, once a team wins an Inspire Award at a Qualifying tournament, they are no longer eligible to win the Inspire Award at subsequent Qualification tournaments within the same region.

Guidelines for the Inspire Award:

n Team must demonstrate respect and Gracious Professionalism both for team members and fellow teams.

n Team is a strong contender for all Judged awards. The Inspire Award is based on the guidelines for all of the Judged Awards.

n Engineering Notebook must be submitted, and must include an Engineering Section, a Team Section and a Business or Strategic Plan. The entire Engineering Notebook must impress the judges.

n Team demonstrates and documents their work in their community spreading awareness of the team, FIRST, and FTC within the community.

n Team displays good communication and teamwork skills within the team as well as with their alliance partners.

n Team communicates clearly about their robot design and strategy to the judges.

n Team presents themselves well in the judges’ interview.

n Robot and team effectively competed in the game challenge and impresses the judges.

n Team and robot consistently perform well during matches.

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