After beating 26 teams to win their qualifying match last month, the newly-formed FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team, the Lion’s Den, will vie for the state title this weekend.
In its first year with a sponsored FIRST Tech Challenge Team, St. Andrew’s is improving at an accelerated pace and picking up trophies along the way. This year’s FIRST Tech Challenge has tasked students with building a robot that will complete specific objectives; this year, in the spirit of Indiana Jones, the robots must pick up and stack soft cube “glyphs” and drop “relics” in areas of the playing field.
At a Jan. 14 qualifying competition, the team’s robot scored an average of 63 points and won four of its five matches. That strong showing motivated the team to make a push to qualify for states.
“After the first (meet) we realized the scale of the competition,” said Ashley Cheung ‘19. “We did a lot better than we thought we would and it gave us a lot of confidence about our robot.”
In the two weeks before the Jan. 28 qualifier, the team refined their design, both on the inside and the outside. Jake Lee ’20 re-wrote the programming code for the robot, significantly improving the controls with Java.
“I’ve never coded with a team before, only by myself,” Jake said. “It helped me a lot with teamwork.”
The robot’s average score skyrocketed, with practice runs earning the team as many as 199 points. During the competition at the U.S. Naval Academy, the robot – now able to complete autonomous tasks and outfitted with new gear and a St. Andrew’s lion shield - performed two perfect runs. The team would ultimately take home two trophies: first place and the Best Robot Design Award.
“That set a good momentum for the team going forward and gave us the confidence we needed,” said team captain Andy Harris ’18.
Team members agree they would not have been able to build their robot – nicknamed “Simba,”—without the resources in the D!Lab. Front and side panels, wheel adapters, the robot’s arm, and a holder for the phone running the robot’s program were made in the D!Lab.
“It gives us a lot more opportunities,” Ashley said. “If we can’t find something online or if something is out of stock, we can make it ourselves.”
The team also said the emphasis on “coopertition,” defined by FIRST as “displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition,” was key to their growth. Alliances with local teams – Wizards.exe and Mechanical Paradox Cubed, who both have competed nationally – have helped the Lion’s Den since it was formed in August.
“It’s really just a win-win scenario where we get awesome experience and ideas from these really good teams, and they get the resources we have too,” Andy said.
When the Lion’s Den competes at the state meet at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County this Saturday, the team’s goal is to score in the top eight, which would qualify them to compete at super regionals.
“We know we can do it,” Andy said. “With the points we’re getting in practice runs and in previous tournaments, we can say to ourselves confidently that we’re a very competitive team.”
Science Department Chair Kim O’Shaughnessy, who sponsors the Lion’s Den, said the team’s success is the realization of a dream she and her students had when Dean Kamen, a founder of FIRST, visited St. Andrew’s last year.
“We have lived that out in spades,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Watching (Andy, Ashley and Jake) work together is a beautiful thing. They bring such different skill sets, and watching it come together to drive the robot is extraordinary.”
Team members include Andy Harris ’18, Ashley Cheung ’19, Michael Primmer ‘19, Sam Figueredo ’20, Jake Lee ’20, George Mazloom ’20, Ben Naab ’20, Annabel Resor ’20, Fiona Gallagher ’21, Hanaah Junaideen ’21, and Taylor Stern ’21.