Riley Linkel of the Mount Desert Island High School robotics team "Pickles" poses with the team's robot at the state championship meet Feb. 23. PHOTO COURESTY OF MEGAN MCOSKER

MDI robotics teams reach championship round at state meet

SOUTH PORTLAND — Three of the four robotics teams from Mount Desert Island High School traveled to South Portland to compete in the 2019 Vex Robotics Maine State Championships on Feb. 23.

Students who were bleary-eyed but excited left on a bus around 4 a.m. to arrive at the southern Maine competition.

Each team to placed in the top 16 positions from earning points throughout the day of qualifying matches chooses another team to form an alliance with to compete for the championship.

One of the MDIHS teams, The Daves, placed 15 of the top 16 teams and chose to team up with the Pickles, also from MDIHS. They were defeated by two of the top robots made by teams from Cape Elizabeth and John Bapst.

Several students joined the robotics program for the first time and there were a record-breaking three female student participants this year. They were spread among the teams that competed at states. Gabriella Giblin was on Delta. Ayano Ishimura was a member of the Pickles and Ruby Mahoney was a member of The Daves.

Despite what people may think when they hear “robot” — a machine that flawlessly obeys every command — the reality is vastly different. Members of the teams, which included a freshman team named Xmarksthebot that did not go to the state competition, have been at work since August. They worked to design, create, program and drive a Vex robot.

At the state competition, the Pickles started the day with a motor seizing on the left side that plagued them for several of the first matches. But the team was able to bring its robot back to full function and be more competitive.

“Once the robot was running well it was amazing and we got lots of points,” said senior Riley Linkel.

This year’s Vex competition, Turning Point, had several ways of scoring points. In each match two robots compete against two others with a 15-second autonomous period during which the robots are programmed to act without driver control. Following the autonomous period, teams can control their robots using joysticks for another minute and 45 seconds. Nothing is pre-programmed; the joystick control must be mapped to each robot’s unique motor configuration.

Teams are assigned colors, either red or blue. Points are scored by flipping caps to show your color, by knocking flags to show your color, by hoisting caps onto poles and by claiming the top podium in a king-of-the-hill-type fight.  Teams can also “de-score” an opponent’s caps. The team you play with in one match will be the team you play against in the next match.

Once their robot was operating at full capacity, the Pickles started to win but it was too late to rise in the rankings.

Elsewhere in the competitions, team Delta was doing well by flipping and de-scoring caps. In match 95 they were matched with someone who could flip the flags. Delta team member reported that the team de-scored their opponents stacked caps and, despite a motor problem, they won the autonomous points with their John Bapst partners. They went on to win that match 20 to 14.

The Daves also did well with their simple but consistent robot. They were frequently matched with teams that had robots with complementary skills. This put them in 15th place at the end of the qualifying matches, which allowed them to pick an alliance partner. Team member Paxton Brown said the chose the Pickles, not just because of loyalty, but because they saw they had a good robot that continued to improve. Unfortunately, the joined team was defeated in the first round of championship matches.

Coach Megan McOsker said the students showed skill, ingenuity, sportsmanship, teamwork and grit as they battled their way through this season.

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