Everyone in attendance reaped the rewards of another beautiful day in Central California. In preparation for the big event, Branch Street, running down the length of Old Town, was closed to through traffic. At 10am sharp the parade began with a loud crack from the barrel of a late 1800’s six-shooter, toted by a sheriff from the typical western town sauntering down the middle of the road. For a moment a tinge of panic set in, half expecting to look down and see a ball and chain weighted to my ankle, it was with a sigh of relief that I remembered paying those parking tickets.
Rounding the corner onto the main thoroughfare, the magnitude of the crowd hit home, bringing back childhood memories of swimming through Where’s Waldo? books trying to find my camouflaged companion. Awash in the masses were cowboys, punk rockers, burnt-out surfers, and middle class faithfuls. While that seems an odd mix, all were able to come together with the knowledge that kin and kindred were marching, offering everyone the universal experience of pointing into the parading masses. “There she is”, “That’s my brother”, and “I sit next to her in class”, were common utterances. As the parade wound down, and the pooper scoopers tidied after the horses, I made my way to tables and booths overflowing with locally grown produce and goods.
Making my way down the isles, the sight of a robotic arm towering over people and E-Z ups peaked my interest. Having finally worked up the courage to pull away
from a table offering tastings of an almost infinite variety of homemade honeys the arm loomed large. While poking around the “strange contraption”, Abby Sandquist, a senior at Arroyo Grande High School and head of the design team for robotics team 1388, casually walked over and introduced herself. Her eager smile was immediately noticeable under long blond hair and blue wool headband. Without wanting to sound like a total dunce I asked what the machine was. Abby, jumping at the chance to explain, her love of robotics obvious, what her and her team’s efforts produced, said the robot was “designed to shoot baskets for an international competition.”
The competition begins January 1st every year, with each team given instructions and guidelines for a 6 week build process. In March, competition begins with 3-team squads facing off in single elimination rounds. Strategies and equipment come in unlimited forms as do the yearly challenges. Some choose to develop machines with a solely defensive bent, staying near the 120 pound upper limit, while others try for a more maneuverable, balanced approach. Each 2 minute game is played on half a regulation basketball court, with the last 10 to 15 seconds acting as a bonus round.
In 2011, the robots were required to climb a 10 foot poll as part of the bonus round.
Teams can play up to 60 rounds a day depending on their success.
Unfortunately, 2011 saw team 1388 go undefeated until the semifinal round, just missing out on the international final. All was not lost though. Arroyo Grande was able to take those lessons home with them, building a better product for 2012.
One of the biggest differences between Arroyo Grande and most of their competitors is that they do everything in-house: welding, machine work, and component interfacing. The robotics program has a multitude of departments, that allows for a wide swath of student, with wide interests, to participate. The program includes: an electrical department, fabrication, programing and marketing.
The marketing department is responsible for getting the word out to the school to drum up support and let their supporters know how their year is going.
During the build season the team gets together 5 or 6 days per week to meet the deadline. Abby, as head of design, spends considerable time on CAD and inventor software refining their efforts. But not straying too far from their familiar offensive stance.
When asked about what she enjoys most about her experiences with team 1388, Abby replied “I like to see the development and strategy process, but I’ve taken the most from the design process – I’ve learned a lot.” Another perk of being involved in robotics is that she is able to “meet her crowd”.
In the future, Abby would like to study mechanical engineering at university.