Saturday, January 26, 2008

FLL is Awesome!

No one ever has to tell me twice that robots are awesome. And I do also believe that Legos are too, indeed awesome. Put the two together and you get amazing, which is why I love the FIRST Lego League (FLL). It's a robotics competition for elementary and middle school kids with Legos. I'm actually extremely jealous that I didn't get to participate in FLL when I was a youngster, and that my 2nd elementary school, Broward Estates, got an FLL team a few years after I left. Even though I wasn't on the team, I was proud to know that they won this year's tournament at Crystal Lake in November. Nevertheless, this brings me to today's events. I have volunteered with FLL since I got involved with robotics in my freshman year of high school. For years, the only FLL tournament in Broward was "Robotic Dimensions" held at Crystal Lake. This year, the RoboColts from Hallandale Elementary hosted a tournament at their school in addition to the Crystal Lake event. I can't say that it was anything but pure success for a rookie event.

This event was my fourth FLL event as a volunteer, and second as a referee. I'm always amazed at what the kids bring out to the field at each competition. Like I mentioned before, even though the parents and coaches are often worse than the kids competitively, its still a cool experience for everyone. At times, I feel as if FLL is more advanced than FRC, which makes it even more amazing. With our level robots, there is only a 15 second autonomous (well, hybrid this year) period, and then the other 2 minutes are completely tele-operated. I could not imagine programming an FRC robot for a full match, besides the fact that I'm not a software person. A lot of the challenges require such precision to score, while some are easy grabs...literally. I really would love to mentor a team, and it would be awesome if Welleby Elementary had one since it's so close, but I have no clue of any other teams that are remotely in the area. For now, I definitely enjoy reffing at the local competitions.

For a new competition, everything ran quite smoothly. I was extremely impressed. I actually skipped out on robot building with my own team...don't ask go today. Hallandale Elementary is beautiful. I think it was renovated or built at a new location this year, but the structure seems more like a high school than an elementary school. Aside from aesthetics, everything was very well organized, and most importantly, everyone was SO NICE. I'm not used to having my efforts acknowledged, or even appreciated to the degree that it was today. Team 108 and some other FIRST events have made me cynical towards certain things, but today my outlook changed. It's amazing how a few very nice people can do that. I'm not sure if it was just that there were so many less experienced people there that changed the atmosphere, or if it's actually me that's changing, but this competition definitely felt different than the one I went to a few months ago. I often second-guessed my own potential and worthiness due to reasons unknown. I was really nervous about being a referee for the first time, especially with coaches and parents watching my every mark and breathing down my back. Today, I didn't care at all about them, the kids knew exactly what they were doing. I was pretty confident, and I think I managed to do a pretty good job. Another interesting twist to this competition from the other was that most of the volunteers were adults, as opposed to an all high-school/college crew at Crystal Lake. There was no major difference between the two, but it was kinda weird at times...sometimes I had to stop and think "woah, these are teachers!" Gustavo and I had an interesting conversation last night about how Elementary teachers were so much less bitchy and so much more friendly. They always seem happy. I don't know what happens to teachers from that point on, but sometimes, I wish that I could have an elementary-personality teacher, without an elementary teaching style. So, aside from all of that sappy reflective stuff (sorry, I just had to get it out), there was lots of fun...

The team that ended up winning the competition had the most amazing robot EVER. I think they were the RoboMonkeys or the MonkeyBots or something. They scored 395/400 points consistently in the last 4 matches, and their kickass robot was pure genius. I was the referee at their table during the Top 8, Final 4, and Final rounds, and I was in awe at how they completely ALL of the missions. ALL of them. The only team that I've seen in the two competitions that I've been to to do that. On top of that, they weren't competitive little jerks either, they were actually really friendly. I need to take their robot, multiply it x20, and use it as our robot for the 2008 game, FIRST Overdrive, this year. It has the perfect forklift elevator system and such precise mechanisms, though we're definitely not putting rack and pinion on our robot again this year.

If you've never been to a robotics competition, you wouldn't know how large of a part music plays into the whole event. It can actually make or break the whole mood. Typically, there is a good share of techno, pop, rock, and whatever other flavor the DJ likes to bring. No robotics competition is complete without Mr. Roboto, some Queen and AC/DC, Cotton Eye Joe, The Cha Cha Slide, Sandstorm, the Macarena, and now...Crank Dat Soulja Boy. When I made the few CDs that I was asked to bring, I didn't think that it would be the only music playing. I didn't think that I could hear the same 45 songs that many times in one day. I didn't think that those little robot-builders had the ability to dance to all of those songs SO MANY TIMES in one day. Oh, but they surely did...

So now I'm not ready to go back to all of this serious engineering and science and physics and complicated robotics stuff that I have to do. I had so much fun today that I just want to do FLL and completely pwn at it forever. Little stress, no cuts and scratches, no heavy lifting...just pure fun! Okay, maybe not...pneumatics and those awesome transmissions are just too cool to give up!

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