Landroids is the first NJ team invited to the 2011 FTC World Championship

On Jan. 22, 2011, at the Delaware Diamond State Championship tournament, our very own team Landroids #4220 from Livingston Robotics Club has become the first New Jersey FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team to earn an invitation to the 2011 World Championship.  Landroids received the highest honor, the Inspire Award, as well as the Final Winning Alliance award, ranked 5th place in robot competition out of 33 teams.

One week after that event, Landroids once again competed at the New York Hudson Valley State Championship at Pace University, on January 30, 2011. The Landroids was nominated for the highest Inspire Award, won the Think Award, and ranked #3 out of 36 teams in the robot matches.

With the Inspire Award, Landroids is automatically invited to the FTC World Championship. In the past, the FIRST World Championships had always been held at Atlanta, Georgia.  Starting in 2011, the venue will be moved to a larger and more centralize location at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis, Missouri, which generated even more excitement and anticipation from the teams.

The 2010-2011 FTC tournaments in many states have been in high gear since January and it will continue into the month of March.  In this high school division, teams are allowed to cross the state line with certain conditions to increase their chances of advancing to the world level.  At each championship event, only two teams are eligible to be invited to the World Championship: the Inspire Award winner and the Winning Alliance Captain.

More than a dozen states across the US have already chosen their top two award winners for the 100 spots at the FTC World Championship. It is therefore, not surprising to see 33 FTC teams from Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Rhode Island came to Bob Carpenter Center in Delaware University on January 22 for the Delaware Diamond State Championship. Then a week later, on January 30, another 36 teams from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania gathered at Pace University for the Hudson Valley Championship titles.

During the last 3 seasons, Landroids had not only became well known internationally as a FIRST LEGO League team, they have also captured the 1st place awards in other high-profile national and international science and robotics competitions, such as the eCYBERMISSION and Google X PRIZE Moonbots. The team has been recently invited to the Google Science Fair Kickoff to show their work.  With the current 6 members, Stanley Cheung, Gage Farestad, Brian Lee, Vijay Menon, Sam Yang and Karlin Yeh, in its 4th season as a rookie FTC team, Landroids has continued to demonstrate its ability in capturing top awards. This neighborhood team’ success, however, is not incidental.

Behind the trophies and limelight, there are many hours of learning and hard work invested by the members and the coaches.  That is “just part of the challenge to juggle and manage our time”, said Yeh.

With a slow start this season moving from playing with plastic LEGO pieces, to focus on learning the fundamentals in metal and plastic material fabrication, robot construction, electronics and prototype board design, RobotC programming and Pro-E rendering, the team has set their bar high and to aim for a particular game mission that most teams are not attempting: detecting and dispensing the magnet baton out of 100 batons stacked around the field.

Being an independent team as part of a non-profit organization, there is no luxury of facilities, machine tools, extra robotics kits, practice field or cash funding.  Landroids has just enough parts to build one robot. Tryout a new idea required disassembles the robot to reuse the parts. Most of Landroids’ more complex robot construction was done in a dark, cramp warehouse located 10 miles from homes, where the members have access to the valuable machine shop.

The hardship has become more evident when they decided on a drastic redesign of the robot collection and dispensing mechanisms in order to increase scoring after a qualifying competition in New Jersey.  With only 6 days at hand to the competition in Delaware, most of the robot was gutted for an overhaul. After a grueling week of robot reconstruction, with a midnight drive to Delaware, the Landroids was faced with FTC teams from 5 different States on Saturday morning, some of which had previously competed at the World Championship level.

The State competition was fast pace and intense.  Each round of robot match randomly assigned two teams forming either a red or blue alliance to face off each other. Your partner in one round could be your opponent in the next match.

“It’s actually a good example of ‘Gracious Professionalism’, because to function well as an alliance, you have to give your alliance member information about your robot, help them to be better, but the alliance may later become your opponent.  Ultimately, the goal is for your individual team to win and work well with others,” explained Lee.

Landroids took the Inspire Award at Delaware as a rookie FTC team and as the first New Jersey FTC team to do so. The judges noted about the Landroids:  “This team impressed the judges in all categories and exemplifies Gracious Professionalism. The robot design with multiple sensors, advanced drive system, a unique conveyor belt and a pneumatic claw propelled the team into the top rankings.  They freely shared their knowledge, their extra robot parts and their enthusiasm with other teams.” The Inspire Award winner is the “prototype” for what the FTC teams should achieve as part of the FIRST Tech Challenge.

“After many very late nights on school days and weekends, it was nice to see how our hard work was paid off,” said Farestad after the Delaware win.

Immediately after Delaware State Championship, the Landroids put in another 3 long days after school midterms and utilized the snow day to refine their programming, prepared for the New York Hudson Valley event the following weekend.  In this tournament, Landroids successfully deployed the-one-of-the-kind pneumatic claw to capture 2 batons in the row and put them in the center of a 2” PVC tube in a rolling goal.  The crowd went wild in witnessing such fine precision and engineering movement in the last 30 seconds of the match. Although the batons were not the magnetic ones, no points were given for that attempt, but the Landroids had demonstrated their ability in engineering their vision.

At the same competition in New York, the Landroids demonstrated the core value of FIRST called “Gracious Professionalism”. It is about competing fiercely but treating one another with respect and kindness in the process.  Landroids was called in to help a Suffern, New York team whose robot was having some major problems and the programs were not working.  Landroids’ members Yeh and Lee spent their lunch hour to lend a helping hand to bring that team’s robot back to a working condition.  Immediately after, the Suffern team became the opponent and defeated the Landroids in the next match by 1 point.

“If given the chance again, I would still do my best to help another team, regardless of whether they are my opponent,” remarked Yeh after the match.

So far, after attending 2 scrimmages, 3 qualifiers and two State Championships, Landroids is gathering their experience for the World Championship.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting other people of my age who share a passion for robotics, especially in programming, “said Lee, who is the lead programmer of Landroids.

Yeh, who is the lead robot designer added that he looks forward to seeing some old FLL friends from around the country who have been competing with the Landroids for the last 3 years, but are now also in the FTC division.

Before attending the World Championship in April, there are a few more things on Landroids’ plate. The team is scheduled to compete in the upcoming NJ State Championship on February 19.  They are currently organizing the 4th annual FIRST robotics exhibition at Liberty Science Center, which will be held once again on the President’s Day, February 21, 2011, as part of the 60th anniversary of Engineers Week.  Additionally, Landroids’ Moonbots documentary is to be featured in an X PRIZE Foundation education program video. The team will also be spotlighted in an online magazine, Amazing Kids, in the upcoming months.  Amidst this busy schedule, Landroids is also coordinating with LEGO and Google in promoting the Google Science Fair to inspiring young people to explore the fields of science. After the World Championship, the team plans to give back to local community by working with other Livingston Robotics Club teams to organize LRC Jr.FLL Expo on May 28th at Livingston Oval to inspire children ages 6-9 to have interest in science and technology.

With all of these community outreach events and the upcoming competitions, Landroids needs to raise $10,000 to go to St. Louis for a chance to represent Livingston and New Jersey at the world level.  Anyone who would like to be a sponsor of team Landroids can make a tax-deductible donation to “HCHY of Livingston”, note it for “Livingston Robotics Club – Landroids”, and mail it to 4 Sparrow Drive, Livingston, NJ 07039.   For more information, see www.landroids.org.

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