County robotics team advances to semifinals in Knoxville regional

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After a year that has included hosting summer camps, fundraising at Clemson football games and countless hours building their robot, members of Pickens County FIRST Robotics Team 2751 were excited to finally see their robot in action at the Smoky Mountains Regional Competition held in Knoxville, Tenn.
For two days, 54 robotics teams, some from as far away as Canada and Israel, converged on Knoxville and competed in more than 100 total matches. This year’s game asked teams to develop robots that can efficiently collect and shoot basketballs into one of four scoring hoops to earn points. Points could also be earned by robots capable of balancing on teeter totter-style ramps situated in the center of the playing field.
During the preliminary rounds, competitors are randomly placed in alliances composed of three robots that must work together to outscore their opponents during a 2 minute, 15 second match. While the challenge of working with a team and robot that are unfamiliar can be daunting, Danny Fahey, team mentor and School-to-Work Facilitator for the School District of Pickens County, feels that learning to overcome unexpected obstacles is a critical part of the FIRST experience.
“Although the design of a FIRST Robotics robot is very important for the competitions, in many cases the best designed robot does not win,” said Fahey. “When you have been randomly assigned two other robots to work with you in such a short period of time, strategy and teamwork become critical.”
After the initial matches are completed, the teams with the highest scores move on to the elimination round. In this phase of the competition teams have already competed in at least seven matches and participants must be prepared to make adjustments, adapt to conditions and step in to help alliance partners when things go wrong.
“The Knoxville regional started with a thud instead of a bang. Our shooting mechanism was inconsistent, and our ramp lowering mechanism did not work,” said Jonathan Sarasua, team member and senior at Daniel High School. “Everything was going wrong until we changed perspectives on everything. We realized instead of pushing the ramp down, we could raise it up thus lowering it on the other side and we also realized with eight tires compared to the other team’s fancy wheels, we could play iron defense.
“In the playoffs we were in the tight spot of helping our alliance partners with some issues. We had to help with connection errors and parts falling off, but it all worked out in the end when we were able to reach the semifinals. We lost, but it showed us what we can do for our next competition.”
While the team did not win their first competition of the year, Ray Farley, Executive Director of Alliance Pickens points out that the team’s ability to consistently advance to the final rounds of FIRST events demonstrates just how skilled the students are.
“Designing and building a robot of this quality is a tremendous amount of work,” said Farley. “To be successful, these students must learn to write custom software, apply advanced mathematics, learn electrical and metalworking techniques and use a host of other related technical skills.
“By consistently performing at such a high level in competition, team 2751 serves as another great example of the quality of student that our Pickens County schools continue to produce.”
Team 2751’s next competition is the Palmetto Regional which will be held in North Charleston later this month.