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TC robotics adjusts state tourney goals

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

The Triton Central High School robotics team finds itself in an unfamiliar situation heading into Saturday’s state tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The three-time defending state champion program isn’t counting out defending its state titles – but the group knows the odds this year are less likely.

That’s because Triton Central, as it has all year, is playing at a disadvantage.

The school is sending three teams – Bow Tie Bot, Colossus and R.A.L.F (which stands for Robotic Automated Life Form) – to Lucas Oil for the all-day tournament.

None have the V5 system, which advisor Keith Starost described as a system with a new brain that has more powerful motors, better controllers and a better vision sensor.

That puts Triton Central at a disadvantage against schools with the system.

Some of the robots with the V5 system can be coded to make adjustments aiming for the flag in one game and launch more accurately. Triton Central has to manually line it up.

“It takes us an extra second or two, which isn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things except for it allows you to get hit pretty easily before you can get that nice lined up shot,” he said.

The other disadvantage to using a 393 motor is the V5 has a parking function in which the driver can lock up the motor. Teams earn additional points for parking on a platform and the newer system makes it easier to stay parked.

“So it puts us at a little bit of disadvantage,” Starost said. “I think they’ve learned a lot with trying to play in that realm, trying to get these motors and these brains that work at a level that’s competitive with the other system.”

Starost found out a few years ago that the new system would be available this year. VEX informed schools that they could trade their current systems for the new one with a discount code, but at the time was unable to say when the new system would be shipped.

Starost took the blame for not ordering V5 in time.

“I didn’t want to trade them in all of our stuff and then the students not have any,” he said. “I also didn’t want to buy a bunch of new systems when I had the opportunity to get the discount. So I kind of got lost in limbo there.”

Some schools went ahead and traded their systems, he said, admitting he should have done that. When it got closer to the deadline for trading in old systems, he said he decided to go ahead and buy the V5.

At that point, he found out that the system was no longer available for purchase, meaning Triton Central was stuck with the old version.

“It’s been very tough because you’ll see a robot that’s not necessarily a good design but because of the motor is able to keep up with better designs,” sophomore Roddy Austin, a member of R.A.L.F., said. “It’s been a struggle.”

With that disadvantage, the teams are focused on advancing to the semifinal, which would automatically qualify them for the world competition in late April in Louisville.

“It’s been rough,” said Adam Tomamichael, a member of Bow Tie Bot, which has competed at worlds before. “It’s just frustrating because we’ll make it to the semifinal or the final and then we’ll lose. Most of the other matches, we’ll be able to do stuff and we’ll be good and during those matches, the other teams with the V5 will pressure our robot too much and our motor will torque out and then we basically can’t do anything.”

While it seems unlikely Triton Central will defend its titles, anything can happen, Starost said.

The teams with the V5 system could be disqualified. That happened at the tournament Triton Central hosted last month, in which the top team was disqualified after illegally knocking over another robot.

“There’s opportunities for that but when you go in rooting for another team to mess up, that’s not really a good situation to be in,” he said. “As far as if nobody messes up, coming away with a win at state will be incredibly difficult.”

Triton Central has seen all of the top teams during the course of this season and have successfully reached the finals. In Bow Tie Bot’s case, that team has reached the semifinals multiple times.

“I think that’s definitely a possibility,” he said of reaching the semifinal. “It’s a matter of how the cards fall sometimes. We definitely have the potential, which is nice.”

The program has attended seven competitions this season and, at every one, a team with the V5 system has won.

“From an education standpoint, it’s been awesome,” Starost said. “They won’t agree because it’s frustrating. It’s absolutely frustrating and it’s very demoralizing when you go to the competitions and every winner has a V5 and so it makes it a little tricky.

“They’re all positive kids, which is awesome, and they’ve taken it really well,” he said. “It’s just been a little sad for me to see because I know they’re working hard and they continue to work hard and they haven’t gotten discouraged enough to stop working.”