Brower’18 electrifies robotics competition

At the Robotics First Tech Challenge World Championships in St. Louis in late April, Rob Brower ’18 and nine other members of his team, The Brainstormers, placed second after competing in a close tiebreaker.
The World Championships, which originated in 2006, welcomed 128 teams from around the world traveling from as far as South Korea, Germany, and Taiwan. In order to qualify for the competition, each team must advance from qualifiers, states, and super regionals, which occur around the United States. The Brainstormers qualified at the East Super Regional Championship in Scranton, Pennsylvania, over March break.
The team arrived in St. Louis on April 25 and explored the city before tweaking their robots—which they had worked on all year—and beginning to compete on April 27.
In robotics competitions, each team creates a robot to perform a series of tasks, which vary from year to year. Rob became interested in the activity when he joined a sixth grade team at The Fenn School. He switched to The Brainstormers, who meet every Friday and Saturday, in 2013.
“I’ve always been interested in building, so I started robotics and immediately fell in love with it. I’ve done it ever since,” Rob said.
“Last year the challenge was called ‘Rescue,’ and it involved the robot climbing up an incline,” he added. “This year it was ‘Velocity Vortex.’”
Velocity Vortex required the teams to collect whiffle balls and shoot them into correlating hoops, convert beacons—digital panels that light up—to their team color, and place the cap ball—a large yoga ball—on top of a hoop. The challenge remains the same for the entire year, so the championship determined which robot performed the tasks best.
All 128 teams were randomly divided into two divisions, Edison and Ochoa, named after two scientists. At the end of the preliminary rounds, the top four teams from both divisions selected two other teams within their division to form an alliance and advance with into the elimination rounds. The Brainstormers aligned with two teams from Maryland, Cubix^3 and Mechanical Paradox, that Rob’s group knew and praised from previous competitions, he said.
The alliances participated in two challenges: autonomous mode and tele-op. Autonomous mode lasted for 30 seconds, and each preprogrammed robot completed a series of actions that included converting one beacon and shooting whiffle balls. In tele-op mode, a team member controlled the robot.
“Competing was a lot of fun,” Rob said. “But I also really enjoyed getting to meet, hang out with, and talk to other teams about their robots and what they thought of the challenge.”
Surpassing the division semi-finals and advancing to division finals was one of Rob’s favorite parts of the competition, he said.
“I remember looking up in the stands and seeing our coach, Tricia, crying as she walked down and hugged us,” Rob recounts. “It’s one of those moments that I will never forget.”
Emily Brower ’18 also expressed happiness for her brother’s accomplishments.
“I’ve never seen Rob pour as much time, effort, and care into something as he does with his robotics. Robotics is truly his natural talent and passion. I’m so proud of everything he’s done,” she said.
Rob and his alliance competed against Data Force, Bobots, and Height Differential, all from the Ochoa division, in the finals. Although Rob’s group prevailed in the first match, it lost the last two, costing them the championship.
“The final match was really close, and it came down to a little bit of luck,” Rob said. “All in all, I am really proud of how well our team did. We came a long way during the season, and we can’t wait for next year.”

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