Speed. I am speed.
Four robots. Three minutes. One winner. The goal: Score styrofoam balls and tennis balls into wooden scoring areas. First match. Putting the robot on the field… We ask: Will the robot fit in the prescribed starting box?
Three weeks of practice and six weeks of building culminate today, in the next three minutes. I’ve practiced ruthlessly, yet my hands. I have no choice but to focus on the match ahead and calm myself - I give the referee thumbs up and the match starts.
Thankfully, it’s all down to instinct. Pull out of the starting area, make a right-hand arc around the barricade. Continue into a left-hand arc to avoid hitting the scoring area. Raise the arm to the height of the fly, coming to a stop. I’m too far - extend a little. No! That’s too far! The fly, suspended only on a piece of music wire, bounces away… Now it’s impossible to get. I’ve practiced for this a million times before: Turn slightly to the other fly, extend a little less, and grab. The crowd erupts, but I don’t pay attention. I’ve only won half the battle: now I need to get it to a scoring area.
Backing away, I must retract the arm or risk dropping the fly. Avoid the hanging flies -knocking them to the floor makes it harder to grab them. Carefully navigate the robot, with it’s precious cargo precariously gripped in it’s claw, between the cross and the cones. I hear my name somewhere behind me - did they start chanting it again? Focus. Don’t mind them. I’m about to hit the scoring area, let’s start turning over the arm to drop the fly in. Extend the arm and… Drop!
The crowd cheers. The spotter yells to go get a black fly from inside the tower in the middle of the field - that means I’m going to have to approach from the back and use the hook to open the doors.
Then the crowd goes silent. My heart palpitates, and I keep my eyes glued to the spotter. I can’t see through the door the robot’s reaching through… So I leave it to the spotter to tell me what I need to do. “Left… No! Right! Up!” I try to keep up with her commands “Extend! Grab!” I press the button to close the claw. She motions that I got it, so I pull out… And I heave a great breath of relief, trying to ignore the cheering crowd and the ear-splitting music.
Back to the scoring area. Ten seconds left - not much to do except spin the robot in a victory dance.
After the match, my hands were shaking so much I had to give the controller to a teammate to keep from dropping it. As I was leaning against a brick wall outside, letting the adrenaline out of my system, a friend commented that I was sweating profusely. I was more concerned that I couldn’t feel my hands.
I only got three minutes to relax before the robot came back in from it’s second consecutive round: something had broken the claw, and the batteries were dead. The pit crew scrambled to get fresh batteries off the charger while the mechanical team fixed the claw.
There is no time to be stressed. All we can do is hope and pray that the battery lasts the match - On our last match the battery died four seconds after the match ended.
We did fairly well early on. However, we only finished third, because we had some problems during the finals. Most notably the batteries almost ran out.