A live video feed had barely stopped playing on the big screen in the Newton High School lecture hall when last year's RaileRobotics team captain — now a graduate of Newton High School and student at Wichita State — rushed to this year's team captain to start giving a little advice and pep talk, and to bask in the excitement of the announcement they had just watched.
"This is the first year that other team will ask, religiously, how much your robot weighs," said Reid Graber to his brother, Jakob.
Jakob and the team members he will be leading had just ended his winter break two days early and was contemplating the rules of a new game in which to compete as they build a robot. They have precious little time to construct their entry.
The team will have about six weeks to construct a robot to compete — though there have been some minor rule changes that could be helpful.
"We don't have end build day on the six-week mark, you have until your first regional," Jakob Graber said. "The earlier you go in a regional, the less time you have — but the less prepared everyone else is. That is why we are doing two regionals this year."
The team's first regional competition will be during spring break — March 18 through 21 at the Heartland Regional in Olathe. They plan on competing again from April 1 through 4 at the Green Country Regional in Tulsa, Okla.
In this season's game, called Infinite Recharge, two alliances (groups of three randomly selected robots for qualifiers and team-selected robots for championship rounds) work to protect FIRST City from approaching asteroids caused by a distant space skirmish. Each Alliance, along with trusty droids, races to collect and score Power Cells (foam balls on the playing field) in order to energize its Shield Generator for maximum protection (by launching those balls into different targets of different heights).
To activate stages of the Shield Generator, droids manipulate their Control Panels (a lazy susan painted in multiple colors that must be spun either a specific number of times or to a specific color by the robot) after scoring a specific number of Power Cells. Near the end of the match, droids race to their Rendezvous Point to get their Shield Generator operational to protect the city (a swinging bar that must be level after two or more robots hang from it at the end of the match).
"This looks like it will be pretty good," Jakob Graber said.
His brother said this game is, in his opinion, more difficult to play and build for than last year's rule set — Deep Space in which teams were given points for putting balls in containers, attaching items to “rockets” and for finishing the match upon a pedestal. After the FIRST Robotics Heartland Regional in Olathe, Newton hoisted a regional championship trophy and qualified for the national championships with an overall record of 20-4, including an undefeated record in elimination matches.
Reid Graber said this year's team should be able to compete at a high level again.
"There is the talent in that room to make it happen," he said Saturday.
That talent was, at the time, waiting for the base parts kits being driven back from Kansas City by volunteers while scouring the rulebook and beginning to create ideas and goals for the competition.
"Honestly, what is exciting about this year is the amount of vision tracking," Jakob Graber said. "In previous years they have done reflective tape for vision tracking. That is something that last year would have helped us a lot, but we didn't have time to go for it because we had programming issues. This year it will be almost required with the color wheel and that kind of thing. (Color tracking) is easier that vision tracking, but it will require the ability on the robot other than a camera."