The 2015 Robotics season ended on an extreme high for the students and mentors of MegaHurtz Robotics. After finishing 34th out of 40 in the Kentwood District Competition two weeks ago because of numerous software and field communication issues, the team pulled together and made it all the way to the semi-finals where they finished 4th overall.
Kentwood was a disaster. It seemed that nothing went right for this team and what made things worse is that their problems were unexplainable. FIRST engineers, Field Techs and Control Systems Leads huddled together both on the field and off to help determine why things would just not talk to each other and everyone came back confused, frustrated, and without any answers. Immediately after getting back the team set to work "starting over." The robot for the most part was sound, but they needed a better and more reliable way to pickup and move totes. The computer systems had to be completely wiped and reformatted, and the robot code needed to be rebuilt from the group up. They were not taking any chances when they got to St. Joe.
Starting things off right, MegaHurtz was the third team to arrive at the St. Joe Districts ensuring they could get setup and on the practice field as early as possible. If there were any bugs, they wanted to know immediately so they could be squashed quickly. All the hard work paid off. It was clear the robot was performing much better and all the communication issues from the last event were gone.
Adopting the same principal that made them successful last year: "You can't be good at everything so figure out what you are good at and then be the best." The team focused making stacks of four totes as fast as possible. Averaging 3 stacks a match, MegaHurtz quickly proved to be one of the most efficient stack builders and movers on the field. There were several teams with robots that could taller stacks or that could place the bins, but when it came time for alliance selection the number seven captain needed a robot that could do exactly what the MegaHurtz bot had mastered. The team was invited to the 7th ranked Alliance. Team Virus, MegaHurtz and The Gearheads held their own all the way to the semi-finals where they finished fourth overall making this the most successful season ever.
We spent six weeks designing and building our robot. Six weeks all culminate into what is suppose to be the greatest experience your team will have each season; your first competition. Instead of this grand reception and amazing thrill of the event, our team met with disappointment and heartache. Each teams plays 12 Qualification matches. Our first time out things appears to be good. We connected to the field, our robot performed exactly as expected in the Autonomous Phase and worked well in Teleop. The second time out, however, things went very, very wrong. The robot performed in Auton, but failed to respond to input in Teleop. We flagged down the Field Engineer and he ran over to help us diagnose the problem. The short version of this tragic story is that after two engineers and a control systems lead looking everything over, the official diagnosis is "we don't know what is wrong." and "It doesn't make any sense." Compounding this failure to make sense is the fact that when the robot is directly connected to our driver's station, it works fine. The problem only ever happened when we connected to the field. This would lead a logical person to believe that the problem was with the field. I fully believe the problem was a combination of issues with the field and something in our driver's station. There is no way to verify or even test for this as we are not allowed access to the field except for matches. To mitigate this, we will completely rewrite all our robot code, re-image the robot computer and the driver's station computers. Doing this will make it nearly impossible that any issues we have be something with our software. If it fails again it is either our robot computer or something with the field. We've decided to get to our next competition as early as they will let us to test the new systems.
At 3:30 PM today we set off for East Kentwood High School in Kentwood Michigan. We estimated 90 minutes of travel, but the weather was not cooperative. The wind was blowing badly and it slowed the Jeep and trailer down to a maximum of 60 MPH so it took us just over two hours. We checked in at the Hotel first, dropped off our stuff and non-essential personnel and headed on to the school. Load in was fairly easy. They did not have any decent signage to mark how to get to the drop off door. To their credit, they provided a couple really nice maps, however the maps were zoomed out too far to really see where roads and parking lots were. Plus they were satellite photos of a beautiful summer day and it's March in Michigan. The giant snow piles make things look a little different.
We reached our pit and were able to unbag the robot about 6:30. Things went fairly well after that. We had a couple electrical issues to update but that only took a few minutes. We were really hoping to get some drive time in and maybe even a practice match, however the inspectors felt we had several rough and sharp edges that needed to be filed down. Unfortunately that took us quite a while to resolve. We also discovered our Autonomous programming needed to be adjusted because of the difference in friction cause by the carpet in the arena. This is just one of those things you can't plan for. You have to go to an event and take things for a test drive. We made a change to the code and will test it first thing in the morning.
Tomorrow will be a big day. We're all really excited!
MegaHurtz Team Blog