D'Penguineers Heading Back to World Robotics Championship

D'Penguineers Heading Back to World Robotics Championship

Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy's Team 1717 collect a decisive win at FIRST Los Angeles Regional.

In college basketball, March Madness will take a month. At the FIRST Robotics championship in Long Beach, the madness took just two days, and at the end, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy’s Team 1717 (DPEA) overcame dozens of tough opponents and a sticky wheel to emerge as the champions. Their victory in this Los Angeles Regional event sends Team 1717 to the FIRST Robotics World Championships in St. Louis in late April.

The black-jumpsuit-clad team erupted in cheers and shouts as the final score was posted in the championship round Saturday. High-fives, hugs and a few tears were shared, as the thousands of fans in the Long Beach Arena saluted the winning teams.

“Winning our first regional championship was extremely exciting.” said Daniel Gay, a member of the systems integration team. “Lots of hours and hard work has been put into this robot since the start of the season and there’s something satisfying seeing the whole process come together.”

With high expectations and a long record of success (the team also won the Los Angeles Regional in 2012 but came up short in last year’s FIRST World Championships), the DPEA team arrived in Long Beach with a mission: Keep it going. But mechanical struggles with a balky wheel gave the D’Penguineers pause and they were 2-1 after early, low-scoring games. Anxious parents watching at home might have been worried, but the team wasn’t.

“The worry after Friday was probably more from the outside than on our team,” said senior Thomas Dwelley. “We knew we were OK. Our leadership and our mentors prepare us for trouble, so we knew it would not necessarily be smooth.”

Dwelley proved prophetic. Team 1717 won its next four qualifying matches in a row to emerge as the second-seeded team in the event. Success in the qualifying round meant that Team 1717 would have second pick for the three-school team they would form to compete in the championship rounds. With their first pick they chose a team from Atascadero High School that was a former world champion. The work of the DPEA scouts, who had watched every earlier match with an eye toward forming a winning team, paid off. The third team, from Milken Community High School in Los Angeles proved a valuable final addition.

Team 1717’s robot, Penguin Bot VIII, had a not-so-secret weapon, too. The rules allowed the robots to pick up the disks from the floor instead of being fed in by  students. Team 1717 was one of the few teams to employ this strategy.

Team 1717’s robot maneuvers around the competition at the FIRST Robotics Regional competition.

“We were one of just a few teams to make a Frisbee collector,” said Shauny Grant, who was on the team that made that collector. “That made a huge difference. We were able to reload the shooter without driving back to the feeding station.”

With that collector and all of the robots’ other skills, Team 1717’s new three-robot team proved a winning combination, racking up 149 points in its first quarterfinal, the highest score posted in that round. The team excelled at putting their flying disks into targets, quickly and accurately. A dominating win in their next battle put them into the semifinals as one of the four teams that had survived to this point.

In the semifinals, the team continued its success, with back-to-back wins that put them in the final round. Again, the teamwork among Team 1717 and its partners proved crucial, as the teammates helped clear room for each other to shoot at the targets. As the final buzzer went off, too, all three robots on the Dos Pueblos’s team hung from one of the field’s pyramid, a big 30-point bonus.

Their wins in the semifinals sent them to the finals where they put together two more high-scoring performances. In the championship round, they defeated their opposing triumvirate 133-104 and 140-88. That wrapped up a weekend-closing 10-match win streak.

The entire weekend of activity is the culmination of years of work. For the seniors, this year’s competition caps off four years of work in the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, as well as many hard weeks leading up to the Long Beach win. They worked together to build their winning robot from scratch in just about six weeks. In fact, the drivers had less than an hour’s practice on their devices before the competition began.

“Seeing this happen, I felt like I was going to cry, but I didn’t because everyone was watching!, said Grant. “But I think it must be like what it feels like watching a kid walk for the first time, to see this thing you made finally moving. I’ve never been so proud of my team.”

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Media Relations Team includes Malika Agrawal, Shauny Grant, Alanna Kjoller, Erendiz Tarakci and Caroline Whelan.