Robotics wins their first competition

Jack Guardiola

Malvern’s Engineering Club and Robotics Team 1168 won first place at the Mid-Atlantic Robotics District Event at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, March 16-18.  

As a member of the FIRST Robotics Mid-Atlantic Division, Malvern Robotics competed in three events this season, according to the FIRST rankings website. At the first district event at Westtown School, March 9-11, the team placed 31st out of 40 competitors. At the District Championships, April 4-7 at Lehigh University, the team placed 53rd out of 60.

But the celebration of the season lies in that mid-season win—the first-ever championship in the history of Malvern Robotics.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international organization founded in 1989 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. Although FIRST offers more than robotics competitions, according to their website, these competitions are in a league of their own.

Robotics teams get their task six weeks prior to facing their competition.

“We learn what the game is on the first Saturday after Christmas break, that happens internationally. Everybody around the world, and there are thousands of teams around the world, they find out the details of the game at the exact same time, exact same day,” team mentor and Science Teacher Mr. Kevin Quinn said.

Constructing the robot is very time consuming and intense.

“We’re here until 6 or 7 p.m. every night, Saturdays are from 8 or 9 a.m. until mid-afternoon. And that’s every week for those six weeks. If we have a day off, we usually come in and get a full day of work in,” Quinn said.

The student team is made up of many roles, such as Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Programming Manager, Electrical Designer, Mechanical Designer, and more.

Managing all these positions are the COO and CFO, who split the team into two sections.

“I’m the CFO, so I’m in charge of all the business stuff, so fundraising, scheduling meetings, who’s going to be in competitions, and then also deciding design decision,” senior Nick Villano said. “Rohan [Jhunjhunwala] is the COO. He’s mainly charged with meetings, design meetings, and scheduling stuff, but we kind of share obligations.”

The game assigned to the teams can vary from year to year. This year’s game was named Power-Up.

“[This year’s theme] was basically a retro theme. It pretends it’s a video game,” Programming Manager and robot driver Jimmy McCullough said.

The robots had to activate switches by stacking cubes on a see-saw, and then the robots acquire points, which can be spent on various power-ups. The game has three main phases.

“The first 30 seconds is the autonomous period where you do not touch the controller, and the robots plays by itself. Then, it’s about a minute and a half, two minutes of drive time, and then there’s endgame which most years involves your robot climbing onto something,” Quinn said.

After about 60 placement matches, all of the teams receive their ranking and they form an alliance with two other teams. The alliance then advances through a bracket by winning best of three games

“[After those 60 matches], you go into the playoffs and the way that works is, instead of helping randomly paired teams, the top ranked teams get to pick their partners [in a snake draft format],” Quinn said.

For many members of the team, the competition is a large time commitment. Each competition usually lasts through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

“Not everyone has to stay, but I do because I’m the driver,” McCullough said.

According to Quinn, the competitions can be a lot of fun.

“The competitions are outrageous. If you go to a competition, it’s insane. There are people singing and dancing in the stand, people dye their hair. It’s just crazy,” he said.

The team advanced through all of their games at the Springside Chestnut Hill meet without a single loss.

“[Winning] was really cool because we put all this time into it. There’s times during sophomore year where you just do remedial tasks, but then senior year getting the win is pretty cool,” Villano said.