The conclusion of last year's nail-biter of a district competition at Wilsonville High School saw the home team prevail in thrilling fashion, as Wilsonville Robotics team 1425 Error Code Xero won the FIRST Robotics Competition in the championship round's closing seconds. The group of Wilsonville and West Linn High students then went on to qualify for the World Championships, closing out the year with a top-5 robot before the Robotics season came to a close.
Back with even more determination, Error Code Xero kicked off its 2017 season this past weekend with lofty goals and an ambitious robot. A combination of mishaps and technical difficulties in the early going put Error Code Xero behind the eight ball. The team never recovered, falling in the quarterfinals — finishing the four-day tournament with the 13th-ranked robot Saturday, March 11. Clackamas Academy of Industrial Sciences won first place.
Despite the result, Wilsonville's younger students gained valuable experience as the team now prepares for the Oregon City District event March 23. With dozens of team members, a number of whom are new to high school robotics, seeing the hard work of the past couple months come to fruition during competition was rewarding.
"I had seen footage of other past years and things, and I knew (the district event) was going to be big, but it's just so much fun. There's so much enthusiasm and everyone is so involved in the team," said West Linn High freshman Helene Brehl, who is part of the marketing team.
"The competitions are definitely different from the rest of the year," added WLHS sophomore Zack Friedman. "It's high energy and also high stress when something breaks on the robot and you have a match in 10 minutes. You really have to focus and come together."
The four-day tournament was Error Code Xero's first competitive action of the season. The team wrapped up the build season — every team gets exactly six weeks to build their robot before sealing it in a bag prior to competition — meaning there are still kinks to work out before the end of the robotics season. The team was also hampered by inclement weather that threw a wrench of sorts into the building process.
During competition, Error Code Xero competed in 12 qualification matches, teaming up with opposing teams for the three-on-three rounds. Error Code Xero finished 7-5 after the qualification rounds, struggling at times to score points. This year's game — FIRST Robotics implements a new game with new rules and scoring every year — centers on a Steamworks theme. Teams score points by collecting "gears" and dropping them off in locations, as well as collecting and shooting balls into an overhanging bucket. You can also score bonus points at the end of the match if your robot can climb a rope before the final buzzer.
Error Code Xero's climber was working to perfection — the team's "finishing move" was a big reason for their success last year — but struggled scoring in other areas early on.
"I think there was a problem with the driver station. Our collector was stuck in the down position so we couldn't score gears, which is our main method of scoring," Friedman said after the first qualification round.
While Error Code Xero didn't fare as well as the team had hoped, they did win the event's Gracious Professionalism Award, given to the team who shows the most integrity in providing support for other teams. Wilsonville has played host to the event for the past several years, and this year's district competition was the largest yet with 40 total teams attending. That meant thousands of student competitors and even more onlookers packed the two WHS gyms and school halls Thursday through Saturday. Wilsonville Robotics co-founder and team mentor Eric Rippey said things have changed a lot since he was a student at Wilsonville High in the early 2000s.
"We started out as a pretty small group of students and we didn't really know what we were doing at first. Over the years I feel like we've gotten better at things and had some success in the field as well as seen students learn and benefit. It's great to see where the team is at now."
Error Code Xero will get a couple more chances to qualify for the Pacific Northwest District Championships in early April, but will need right the ship before then. If history is any indication, however, it's too early yet to write Error Code Xero out.
"We built a pretty complicated robot, so I think we mostly have to make things work reliably and consistently," Rippey said.
"I would like to see us go to Worlds and hopefully do better than we did last year. I don't know if that's possible, but we're going to try," said Wilsonville High freshman Anthony Koch.