Western US Championships

Terra Nova Team 6002, Basilisks, Takes 3rd Place Overall (Inspire) and 2nd Place Innovate at 2015 FTC Western US Championships
Terra Nova (Basilisks, 6002) was the second highest-ranked Gold Division team after the qualifying rounds, and ultimately took 3rd place overall (Inspire Award) and 2nd Place Innovate.  This advances them to the World Championships in April for the 6th straight year.

 Match Record:

 1:  Win 642-172
 2:  Win 503-426
 3:  Win 695-305
 4:  Win 566-90
 5:  Lost 583-399
 6:  Win 574-487
 7:  Win 302-60
 8:  Lost 573-510
 9:  Win 635-140

 Lost in Quarterfinals
Compilation of Basilisks' Western US Championship Matches

Story Featured in Pacifica Tribune:

The Basilisks (FIRST Tech Challenge team 6002, nee Antipodes) are proving they were worthy of their title as Northern California Champions.  Previously, Terra Nova’s robotics team capitalized on good fortune to rise to the top of each tournament.  This past weekend however, the Basilisks dominated most of their matches during both days of the 72-team, Western US Championships.  When paired up with robots that were scoring challenged or even broke down, Terra Nova even outscored their competition one on two.

FTC matches pair up teams into alliances that compete head-to-head, but each year the game changes, demanding new robot designs from previous years.  This year, robots have to pick baseball-and golf ball-sized wiffle balls from the floor and deposit them in rolling vertical tubes of four different heights.  The higher the tube, the more points are awarded to each scored ball.  The highest tube (four-foot) is fixed to a structure centered in the field and worth double the highest (three-foot) rolling goal.  Balls can only be scored in the highest goal autonomously at the beginning of a match and during its last half minute, making for last second drama.

During the Northern California Championships the Basilisk’s scoring mechanism (which is shaped like a candy cane) misfired balls about 20% of the time.  The team could see balls shoot up their transparent telescoping tube, but rattle around the opaque, curved top and fall back down instead of being guided around and into a goal.  This was critical because to clear that ball driver Ashley Fryslie (17) had to stop, reverse, and bring their shooter wheel back up to 3,000 RPM without stripping their motor gearbox.  Although Edward Finsness (15) had automated that process with millisecond precision using C programming, he couldn’t speed up physics.  As a result, recovering from misfires consumed most of their driving time, a time when Andy Snitovksy (17) couldn’t capture new balls for scoring.  Solving this problem became the highest priority to prepare for the Western US Championships.

To determine what was going on in slow motion detail, Snitovsky slipped his new iPhone 6 into the curved top to capture high speed video while Fryslie shot balls.  After the first ball fell back down, the team huddled around the phone and were surprised to see the ball make it over the top of the candy cane, bounce off the front, and rebound back and down.  That seemed like something they could fix without having to completely redesign and rebuild their manifold, but first they needed to discover all the different ways that misfires were happening.  After half an hour of misfiring balls while standing still, driving forward, backward and shaking back and forth during turns, all the misfire patterns were identical.  So Fryslie duct taped two small nylon cable ties to the inside of the manifold and tried again and again to misfire balls.  It wouldn’t.  Could the fix be this simple?  Snitovsky reshot the video and was amazed to see the zip ties working as hoped, as a one-way valve, allowing the balls to pass over, but stopping them from rebounding back down the handle of the candy cane.  The next day Fryslie removed the duct tape and machined a more permanent solution.  (You can watch the slow motion video of the problem and fix here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNyD_Q_YTu8)

A misfire finally did appear, at a very inopportune time, in their second match of the Western US Championships, when an additional loss can be the difference between advancing to the World Championships and going home.  It wasn’t the fault of the zip ties though.  Fryslie had forgotten to turn on their shooter, so her firing of their first two balls merely dumped them into their scoring tube to rattle around haplessly.  At previous tournaments, two misfired balls would have meant the end of their scoring for the remainder of the match.  However, anticipating this possibility, the team tested a hypothesis that balls could be fired out by other balls.  They even discovered that three balls could be fired out at once into lower goals, and occasionally higher goals.  So Finsness gave Fryslie the nuclear option:  a button that would override the automated shooter to 100% power; mechanically risky, but proven to shoot out balls without needing that slow reloading process.  Fryslie had only practiced using this button once, the night before the tournament, and she needed it now.  Instead of recovering the balls, Snitovsky continued to intake balls from the floor and Fryslie calmly fired them out at full power.  Soon the tube was clear and 90 seconds later they had soundly defeated another alliance.

The autonomous portion (first 30 seconds) of their matches had also been improved since the Northern California Championships.  Instead of scoring both pre-loaded balls in one rolling goal and dragging it back to their parking zone for 70 points, they intentionally ran their shooter at the perfect speed that would score the first ball, but misfire the second.  Then they would swing the first goal out of the way, turn back around while recovering the second ball, lock onto the higher goal, drag it back to the parking zone and fire the second ball for a total of 100 points.  But far more important than the additional 30 points was that they were now locked onto the highest goal so they could immediately start scoring at the beginning of the teleop (driver-controlled) period.  In contrast, at NorCal they needed to drop their shorter goal and waste valuable time trying to get to the highest rolling goal, often with a defender dogging them.  In one NorCal match this process consumed more than half their driving time and resulted in no rolling goal points.

This autonomous program proved critical in their fifth match against the other undefeated team, last year’s Western US Champion, Batteries in Black (4855) and Afoofa (5939), both from Portland, Oregon.  Terra Nova performed their autonomous perfectly for a full 100 points while Batteries in Black missed scoring in the center goal.  Despite the large autonomous lead however, Terra Nova could not overcome the handicap of a less capable partner during the driver-controlled portion and were dealt their first loss.

However, the Western US Championships have nearly double the qualifying matches of State tournaments, giving Terra Nova time to rack up victories and eventually climb back into first place.  In the last match of the first day V-Cube 4H (5894) decided their only hope was to spend the entire match defending Basilisk scoring.  They kicked that strategy off in autonomous by driving quickly in front of the Basilisk robot and blocked it from getting to the first rolling goal.  Anticipating that teams might try to do this, Finsness had previously programmed counter-defensive measures that autonomously detected the blocking robot, backed up and calmly drove around 5894 to the corner, locked onto the high goal, and fired both pre-loaded balls into it.  The match video shows one V-Cubed driver so stunned that she completely forgot to do their alliance’s dance maneuver.  Though the Basilisk alliance won, this match would eventually prove fateful, because it revealed Terra Nova’s countermeasures with enough time to program counter-countermeasures before Day 2.

Their eighth match was a highly anticipated matchup of four very good teams.  Unfortunately, Terra Nova’s partner, the RoBowties (6137), scored just one ball before losing power to half their drive train and spent the rest of the match limping back to their parking zone for 10 points.  Terra Nova nearly pulled off the solo upset, but fell short, 666-606, and ended the qualifying rounds in second place with a 7-2 record, and therefore pessimistic they would get their top two choices for the playoffs during alliance selection.

To everyone’s surprise, the first-seeded team did not try to pick any of the other alliance captains, leaving Terra Nova free to select Sophia Shaw’s (15), the team’s other programmer and alliance scouter, favorite choice, Batteries in Black (4855).  Terra Nova rounded out their full dream team by selecting Afoofa (5939), effectively adding the alliance that had defeated them in Terra Nova’s fifth match the previous day.

Meanwhile, V-Cubed had been lobbying teams to select them for the playoffs, selling the idea that they had developed a specific anti-Basilisks autonomous program overnight.  They even approached Terra Nova and warned them that if the Basilisks didn’t pick them, they might have to face their anti-Basilisks-tailored robot.  The 3rd-seeded alliance captain, who would face the Basilisks in their first playoff round, bought V-Cubed’s pitch, and even sat themselves out of one of the playoff matches so that V-Cubed could play every match against the Basilisks.  Even the mighty Basilisk-Batteries in Black alliance fell to the V-Cubed defense in the first match.  In the second, V-Cubed autonomously blocked the Basilisks again, but Finsness had a program that took an even wider path around the V-Cubed robot, but accidentally knocked off the center goal when making a turn.  Since they had been blocked off course, this wasn’t a penalty, but by an incredible fluke a small ball rolled into the center goal after both had fallen on the floor.  The referees picked up the goal and placed it back on the center structure with the small ball inside it.  By rule, this ball, worth 60 points in autonomous, should not have counted because only pre-loaded balls can be scored in autonomous.  An appeal fell on deaf ears, and Terra Nova lost the match by a mere 8 points, ending Afoofa’s season.

This of course was also disappointing for Terra Nova and Batteries in Black, but not devastating.  Because of their records in the qualifying rounds, both had already advanced to the World Championships, the ultimate goal of every team.  For Terra Nova, this marks the sixth straight year advancing to the World Championships, an unprecedented feat in Northern California.  This time they’ll be heading in as a favorite as the third-(or fifth, depending on the criteria) ranked team in the world according to FTCstats.org.

Later, Terra Nova was awarded third place in the ultimate category of the tournament, the Inspire Award, given to the team that is judged the best role model for all other teams.  This award was a full team effort, but significantly supported by Ashley Asaro (16) who answered judges’ questions in the pit while the drive team was on the field and Shaw was documenting the other matches.

Local organizations Sam Mazza Foundation, the Rotary Club and Kibblewhite Precision Engineering have all supported Terra Nova to this point in the season, but the Basilisks suddenly need significant help with travel and competition costs for the World Championships.