Three Seattle Academy Robotics Teams Advance to State

Three Seattle Academy Robotics Teams Advance to State

January 2, 2018 – The day after holiday vacation started, before most Seattleites had sipped their morning coffee, a group of students in red shirts assembled. In the hands of these young athletes were wire cutters, power tools, duct tape, zip ties, colorful posters, and four very shiny robots. The SAAS robotics club, Red Shift Robotics, was off to the Feynman Interleague event hosted at the Amazon Doppler Building in downtown Seattle on December 16. Simultaneously across Washington were six such FIRST Robotics competitions, the Feynman league the largest with forty teams competing to advance to the Washington State tournament in February.  Red Shift has four teams, each with a unique number and a team name: 6157, Zenith, is this year’s rookie team; 5619, Horizon, is a mix of rookies and experienced students; and both 2856, Tesseract, and 13330, Pulsar, include the club’s veteran competitors.

For any Star Trek fan, the sea of Red Shift’s crimson shirts would have caused a tremble of fear, but the team’s impact on the league has been nothing but positive. Parent support was amazing to witness as they hauled in three cars’ worth of food and supplies and offered encouragement. Mentors were busy directing traffic and giving input on the judging of presentations. One mentor was part of the referee staff, and when the competition needed score keepers it was SAAS parents who stepped up to work a seven hour shift, on their feet the whole time.

In the FIRST Tech Challenge, robotics teams advance to the next level based on two primary criteria. If a team’s robot competes and beats other robots in that year’s game the team can advance based on their play during elimination matches. The second way is to be given an award that distinguishes the team. Awards are based on student presentations and an engineering notebook presented to the judges. Students can be given awards based on innovative design, community outreach, and superior engineering notebook, while the most coveted prize, the Inspire Award, celebrates a team that “embodies the highest  ideals of FIRST and is outstanding in all judging categories.”

Teams often talk about telling the “story” of their season and showing how they managed and grew from the highs and lows of the season. Red Shift Robotics had quite a story for this season following the unexpected departure of its head mentor. The students who gathered at the Doppler Building had come through a great challenge and were ready to show that they had not only survived, but thrived against the odds.

At the end of qualification rounds Tesseract sat in third place, Horizon was sixth, Pulsar was eleventh, and Zenith was in seventeenth place. In preparation for elimination rounds the top four teams get to pick other teams to join their alliance. Tesseract chose Pulsar and a team from Charles Wright Academy, and the fourth-place team selected Zenith as one of their alliance members. The opportunity to play in the elimination rounds is an honor, placing teams in the top thirty percent at the event. Three of the four Red Shift teams were in this elite group after succeeding through a tough group of robotic teams. Zenith fell to the eventual league winner but showed amazing resilience after battling some serious robot malfunctions. In the end, the alliance with Tesseract, Pulsar, and the Charles Wright team battled into the finals. In the best-of-three bracket, no one was surprised to see the match tied one-one, with the league championship determined in the final match.

And what a match it was. Both teams performed perfectly and the score was separated by less than ten points. When the dust settled the Tesseract/Pulsar/Charles Wright alliance lost to the other alliance 343-352, putting in the books the most competitive match in Washington to date. Both teams shook hands and congratulated each other on an amazing game. Matt Kelsey ‘18, an athlete from Tesseract, said after the score was put up, “I don’t care that we lost that match, it was awesome to be a part of it.” This is what the robotics program calls gracious professionalism—maturity and respect in the face of a challenge.

As the group moved into awards, Tesseract had solidified its place at state as the captain of the finalist alliance, but Red Shift’s other teams were still on the bubble. Awards were announced, and it became clear that Pulsar was being given a lot of nominations, a sign that they were at least in the running for the Inspire Award. The Connect Award was announced: 5619 Horizon. The club and the team went crazy, highlighted by a mad dash by Horizon’s drive coach, Franny Kuhr ‘18, to go receive the award. The highest honor award, the Inspire Award, is always done last, and when it was announced that Pulsar had won, the cheer was deafening. Seattle Academy has been nominated for Inspire a few times, most recently at last year’s World Championship, but had never won until now.

As the team looks toward the February State Championship, three of SAAS’s four teams will advance. Their outsized impact on the local robotics community and the FIRST world in general will continue, through the hard work of students and the time and energy of mentors and parents. Red Shift consistently inspires – proving the program deserves the award and accolades received on December 16. The tag line of SAAS’s robotics program this year has been “we are more than robots” and never have the athletes shown this to be more true than the last four weeks of hard work and fun robotics achievement.

Above: The Upper School Robotics Teams