For hour after hour March 10, six Newton High School Students sat watching robots, scribbling notes on small pieces of paper containing a short form.
They were scouting the more than 40 robots that were competing in the FIRST Robotics Heartland Regional at Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Missouri. Every robot. Every match.
"We are looking for teams that do well where we don't," said Jakob Graber from his spot in the bleachers, "as well as teams that can change their strategy based on what is needed in an alliance. For the first 20 matches, this was fun. ... Now we are ready for match 40 of the day."
His brother was down in the arena, collecting blocks and scoring points while other team members were driving and directing the robot.
The efforts of the scouts paid off. Despite early struggles, Newton was selected as an alliance member and advanced to the elimination rounds on Sunday. Newton joined team 6886, Warsaw, Missouri, and team 4388, Fort Collins, Colorado, in the quarterfinals.
When the alliance formed, the scouts knew what the strengths and weaknesses of their new teammates were.
"We recorded information about what teams can help us on the field," Graber said. "Each person was assigned a specific spot."
The three-team alliance lost two quarterfinal matches to end the regional.
RaileRobotics ended the regionals with four wins and eight losses in qualifying rounds and ranked No. 32 overall.
In the 2018 game, Robots operate independently following preprogrammed instructions for the first 15 seconds of the match. Teams are then awarded points by stacking cubes on a scale in the center of the arena, or a switch in each alliance's third of the arena, and controlling the scale or switch by tilting it in the alliance favor. Robots could also deliver blocks to an alliance vault. If a robot was able to hang suspended off the floor from the center scale at the end of a match, points were awarded for that as well.
Newton struggled early — crashing in one match and unable to communicate with computer networks in a second. However, the team continued to program for autonomous operation throughout the day and make changes to the robot to improve control and operation.
During the Saturday afternoon session, the team picked up a pair of wins — in both of those capturing "power cubes" and either stacking them on the center scale or placing them in the alliance vault.
This was, however, more than about winning a game that has new rules and new ways to score every year. A FIRST Robotics team has just a few weeks to not only learn a game, but to build a robot to compete.
"For me, this was about being able to design and build," said Isaac Entz. Entz graduated 12 years ago, and is now serving as a team mentor. "This shows that engineering can be hands-on and theoretical. ... It is a huge experience advantage. ... One of my friends, a mechanical engineer, he knew what the purpose of a ball bearing was, but I had to explain how it worked. he had never taken it apart to see what was going on. I think the practical knowledge is a huge advantage, to do it yourself and see the results after."
RaileRobotics will return to Kansas City for regional competition this weekend. Opening ceremonies for First Power Up will be 8:30 a.m. March 16 at Metropolitan Community College's Business and Technology Campus, 1775 Universal Ave., Kansas City, Missouri. The finals are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. March 17.
Video of all matches involving RaileRobotics at the Heartland Regional are available at https://frc-events.firstinspires.org/2018/team/935. Five matches are available at the Newton Kansan's Facebook page.