ESCANABA - Escanaba and Gladstone may have a rivalry when it comes to some sports, but for the Robomos and the Brave Bots FIRST Robotics teams, working together has yielded winning results.
The partnership led the teams, along with the Yooper Troopers from Cedarville, to win the FIRST Robotics district competition held in Traverse City last weekend.
"I think this is our first first place trophy for both of us," said Gladstone robotics coach Tim Barron.
The Gladstone Brave Bots and the Escanaba Robomos show off the banners they received for placing first in Traverse City FIRST Robotics District Competition. The two teams, which are both slated to compete at the state level, won the competition by joining forces with each other and the Cedarville Yooper Troopers. (Photo courtesy of Gladstone Area Schools)
This year's FIRST Robotics challenge is a game called AERIAL ASSIST, which requires each robot team to join forces with two other teams. The three-robot alliance then competes against another alliance of robots to put a ball through a target suspended above the ground.
"We teamed up with (Escanaba) two weeks in a row," said Barron, noting the two teams had formed an alliance during a tournament held in Escanaba March 14.
In the course of play, alliances gain additional points for each robot that has possession of the ball as it moves down the field - prior to making a goal - making passing to other robots in the alliance a must.
"It's not to your advantage to have your robot working as an individual," said Marie Young, the non-engineering mentor who coaches the Escanaba Robomos.
The three teams developed a strategy. The Cedarville Yooper Troopers would first take possession of the ball first and pass it to Gladstone. The Brave Bots would then pass the ball to the Robomos who would attempt to put the ball in the target.
"There's a plan we have, but it changes throughout the game, so they have to really communicate," said Barron, adding that the students excelled at communicating with other teams in their alliance - to the point that sometimes the students didn't even need to speak.
Young agreed teamwork between the Robomos, Brave Bots, and Yooper Troopers helped the teams win the competition.
"You have to work as a team and I think that's where we excelled," she said.
When the competition ended and the Cedarville, Gladstone, Escanaba alliance was announced, the three teams rushed the court and began chanting, in what Barron describes as a purple, orange, and green mass.
"It was really cool to see the Esky and Gladstone people cheering together," he said.
Currently, Escanaba is ranked eighth in the state and Gladstone is ranked ninth. Because the top 64 teams out of 278 Michigan teams qualify for state, the Brave Bots and the Robomos will have another chance to show their mettle on the robotics court.
When asked if the Robomos would consider working with the Brave Bots at the state competition in at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti April 10-12, Young responded that the Robomos would love to but that it would all depend on the qualifying rounds.
At each tournament teams have no say in the makeup of their alliances during the qualifying rounds. Only the top eight teams from the qualifying rounds get to pick who joins their alliance in the following rounds.
"If we don't make it in the top eight we can't pick Gladstone; If Gladstone isn't in the top eight, they can't pick us," said Young.
Until the tournament, both teams are not allowed to work on their robots - or even touch them.
"You have to put that robot in a bag and it has to stay there," said Young, who noted that the bags were sealed and numbered to prevent teams from making adjustments.
Some schools have taken the program beyond robots. The Robomos have a special sub-team that records and broadcasts their events. The team is looking into the possibility of streaming the state championships live online.
"We're working to make sure that's allowed at the state level," adding that both live and recorded matches of U.P. robot teams can be seen at the team's website, www.team3602.com.
Based off of the performance in Ypsilanti, Escanaba, Gladstone, or both could go on to represent the Upper Peninsula in the FIRST Robotics Championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo.
"It's something we're trying to accomplish. That's the ultimate feather in our cap and I'm sure Esky feels the same way," said Barron.