Gearing Up: Bulldog Robotics Team Heads to State Tournament After Regional Victory

The Norfolk Academy Robotics Team will compete in the State Tournament in Richmond later this month, after a victorious finish at the FIRST Tech Challenge Eastern Virginia Qualifier this weekend.

The Bulldogs also received the Rockwell-Collins Innovate Award, which recognizes a team “that thinks outside the box, and has the ingenuity and inventiveness to make their designs come to life.”

The Bulldogs were part of a three-team alliance that won the qualifier, held at Heritage High School in Newport News. The event attracted more than 40 teams with 600 student participants, according to the organization’s press release. Only two teams from the qualifying tournament can secure spots in the state tournament; however, one of the other two teams had already qualified to compete at the state level, so Norfolk Academy, as the next team in the ranking, earned the open spot.

The robotics crew—which competes with 8095 emblazoned on their team shirts, for the number permanently assigned to the team's robots for all FIRST competitions—is led by two senior captains, Daniel Prohaska ’18 and Chai Hibbert ’18. Dr. Robert Call, Upper School physics teacher, is the faculty advisor.

Hibbert said that one of the most exciting moments of the competition came after a period of frustration in the semi-finals, when the team’s robot was not measuring up to the other robots in its own alliance. “Our autonomous mode didn't work, our robot got disconnected from the controller at one point, and our robot wasn't picking up the glyphs as fast as it was in previous matches,” she said. “In the last five seconds of the match, however, our robot finally parked on a balancing platform! After having a rough match, it was great to see one thing happen so well!”

The team has continued to add features to its robots, which are constructed each year to suit the challenges established by the competition guidelines. Each year, the FIRST organization, which draws competitors from across the globe, releases a new set of course tasks for robots to tackle. One feature that the Bulldog team added to its robot is mecanum wheels, which move laterally, as well as back and forth, like typical wheels. “It was a bit tricky to assemble at first, but once we took the time to fix certain gears, everything turned out smoothly,” Hibbert said.

In the weeks leading up to the state competition, which will be held at ECPI University in Richmond on February 24, the Bulldogs are fine-tuning the robot, Hibbert noted. “We are beginning to buckle down and redo some parts of the robot to make it move a lot swifter and smoother than it has in the past two competitions.”

Good luck, Team #8095, as you gear up for the next level!

The full text of the Rockwell Collins Innovate Award:

The Rockwell Collins Innovate Award celebrates a Team that thinks outside the box, and has the ingenuity and inventiveness to make their designs come to life. This judged award is given to the Team that has the most innovative and creative Robot design solution to any specific components in the FIRST Tech Challenge game. Elements of this award include elegant design, robustness, and ‘out of the box’ thinking related to design. This award may address the design of the whole Robot, or of a sub-assembly attached to the Robot. The creative component must work consistently, but a Robot does not have to work all the time during Matches to be considered for this award. The Team’s Engineering Notebook must include journal entries to show the design of the component or components and the Team’s Robot to be eligible for this award. Entries must describe how the Team arrived at their solution.