F.I.R.S.T. '99 - Our Team Robot Project

Golem- The Brandeis Hillel Day School entry into the 1999 FIRST Robot Challenge!

updated 3/9/99


Here's Golem- our 128 lb entry into the 1999 FIRST Robot Competition! He wasn't the greatest looking robot around, but he sure was good at what he did!


The main crew behind the building of Golem! Unfortunately I did not get any still pictures of the kids who were responsible for the driving, designing, decorating, and other responsibilities of the robot, I may need to get some clips from the video I took for those ones! (Sorry)

The four of us spent nearly 2 months getting the robot together with all the parts specified by NASA. The robot was capable of lifting the basket over 8 feet high within a few seconds and could climb up onto the 6 inch high puck with the climbing feet on the front (almost LAUNCH up for that matter).

The rules of size were important to our design, the size of the robot had to be within certain restrictions (4 feet tall, etc) until the start of the match. We designed our basket to unfold to double its size after the start of the match before raising over 8 feet high!

The 1999 FIRST Robot Competition was held at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, CA in the BIG hangar building. This is the coolest building I have ever been in. It is also the largest open area building in the nation (world?). It was big enough to store several planes, seating for 4000 people and two huge pit areas and still have 2/3 of the space unused! This is a picture of one end of the building with the doors part way open, these doors (which were on independant rail tracks) were on both ends of the building, and had to remain part way open all the time or else the building would create its own weather patterns inside!
Did I mention this place is BIG?

One of the pit areas inside the huge hangar. The actual arena is off camera to the right. We barely had time to hang around this pit area, we had only about 20 minutes between matches, so we usually came out of the arena and got right back in line! Through the whole weekend, we fought in 12 elimination matches, of which we won 10, placing us in 3rd place!

Okay, here's the arena before the start of a match. The rules are kinda complex, but I'll make it as simple as I can. Every team gets the same materials, motors, controllers, wheels, etc to use for their robot and can order up to $450 worth of parts from the Small Parts catalog. There are NO exceptions, so it really makes you think of how to use materials that came with it to their highest degree! Everybody gets the rules at the same time a couple months before the event. These rules also change each year, so you never know what to expect until the last minute and everybody gets the same disadvantage and has to use the same parts for their robots. I LOVE this idea, by the way!

The carpeted arena is set up for four robots in a match, two on each team. The controllers are in a booth in the middle of each side and their robots start on the opposite sides. You also have a human player just outside the arena in each corner that can interact somewhat with the robots. There are 12 elimination matches for each robot team, and the finals are best 2 out of 3 matches. There are several goals for the matches, all of which end up that the team with the most points at the end of a 2 minute match is declared the winner. You can get points several ways:

1. Picking up 'floppies'. These are the red or blue colored styrofoam filled cloth bags in the arena, of which there are 10 of each color. You get 3 floppies automatically in the human player's corner, and they can throw these floppies into your robot for scoring. There are also 4 other floppies of your color in the arena that you can scoop, push or whatever to get into or onto your robot. Most robots could hold a few floppies, some (like ours) could hold 8 or 9 at once. Floppies are worth 1 point each if they are not touching the ground at the end of your match. One technique used by some players is to actually throw your floppies into the enemiy robot's basket!

2. The 'puck' in the middle of the arena is that octogon-shaped thing about 6 feet across with two metal poles sticking up on each side. It is carpeted and is on caster wheels, so your robot can push it around- if you can push the puck into the enemy side of the arena by the end of the match, you get a 2x multiplier for each of your floppies! Gets pretty crazy when 4 robots are all trying to push this thing around!

3. Raising the floppies above 8 feet. If you can (and most robots there could), use some kind of mechanical device to lift your floppies at least 8 feet above the floor, you get another 2x multiplier for each floppy! This was a really cool thing to watch, most robots incorporated a scissor-jack style lifter for the basket, some even had covers that opened and closed on top of the basket, and there was at least 3 cool 'cherry-picker' style lifting mechanisms I saw too.

4. Climbing onto the puck. If your robot was capable of driving, clawing, jumping, whatever onto the puck at the end of the match, it was worth a whopping 3x multiplier for each floppy your team has! And, if BOTH robots in your team could get up, its ANOTHER 3x multiplier! Some robots (like ours) simply used a climbing system in the front to pull the whole robot up onto the 6 inch high puck, but some used other techniques, such as grabbing the pole on the side of the puck and raising itself up from there (2 inches off the ground was the minimum requirement). These were some really cool designs that could do this, we always were hoping to team up with a 'pole grabber' in our matches so we didn't have to cramp the puck with too many robots. During one match in the first day, our robot launched its way onto the platform, knocking the two enemy robots off within the last 5 seconds of the match, this strategy earned our team the "Best play of the Day" award!

5. If your team is declared the winner by points of the match, your entire team got ANOTHER multiplier (2x or 3x, I cannot remember) Like I mentioned earlier we won most of our matches, so our score was extremely high.

In all, it was possible to get a perfect score of 540 points in a match, which we understand was done only twice the whole weekend. Our team came SO close to getting a perfect score with a robot named 'Crusher', but at the end of the match it was found that Crushers raised basket had swayed slightly out of the bounds of the arena... rats!

It was so cool to see some of the techniques developed over these two days, robot controllers started really being able to control their machines quite well and certain defensive moves became more popular. Once people were able to see how successful our robot was, the other teams started to develop strategies with their ally to run defense-only against us during our matches. Regardless, Golem still was able to keep up the winning streak!

After the elimination matches, our robot proceeded into the finals. As one of the top 8 placing robots, we were allowed to pick one of the non-placing robots to be our ally through the finals. We picked a robot that had done fairly well during eliminations but got a lower score due to missing some of the matches. We went in with high hopes, but were disappointed early when our climbing motor (which we had replaced with a new one the day before just to avoid any problems) failed to get us up onto the platform like we had been able to do so easily in the previous day. In the best 2 out of 3 final elimination, we got knocked out early.

In all, I had a fantastic time at this event! I sure wish I had taken more pictures, but I think I will have to pull some stills from the video that I shot during the event. I'll see if I can get some of those up here too. Congratulations to the kids on our team from Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael, you guys ROCKED! (Did I mention that these kids are from a Middle School, while every one of the other teams at the event were from High School? Not bad at all for our first time there!)

Looking forward to next time!