Celtics create a little robot magic

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They named their robot “David Blane” because they considered it a magical contraption. It helped them qualify for another world championship in St. Louis, Mo., playing a game called recycle rush.

“The whole premise was to stack these boxes into the highest stack possible of six,” said Amanda Logudice, head strategist for St. David Catholic Secondary School’s Team Dave. “Basically you had to work with your two other alliance members to try to get as many stacks and points as possible.”

It took almost a dozen 40-hour weeks of work to figure out the design, construction, engineering and programming to create a “bot” that could perform those multiple task seamlessly. It meant machining parts and building in as many system redundancies as possible to prevent any unfortunate breakdowns, all while maintaining the students’ regular course load.

“You have to make sure nothing breaks and all the parts are good,” said Dominic Faryna, one of the team’s machinists and mechanics who helped fabricate many of those moving parts. “If something screws up you have to figure out why it screwed up, and things like that.”

But it was the “oh so human” qualities that really played a big part in the strong results St. David’s squad had in the second run at the First Robotics Competition at the end of April. They improved on their 21st place showing last year to finish just out of the Top 10 in 11th place with more than 75 teams in the competition.

“Last year was a good step for our development,” said Dominic, about the team that’s been around for five years and was founded with the help of mentor Daniel Delattre, who works in engineering and computing at the University of Waterloo. “We knew if we could make it once we could continually go again and again.”

They did that against teams from across North America and the world including teams that had components or sponsorship from NASA.

“Other teams had access to welding and sheet metal sponsors,” said Daniel Faryna, Dominic’s younger brother. “They could make very complicated parts and actually had parts of their robot that had ‘sponsored by’ on them, and some of the best teams actually worked out of a NASA hangar.”

But the St. David Team Dave learned an important lesson from the Canadian and world competition last year — you’re only as good as you’re alliances with other teams and you better have good scouts in place to spot the other talented teams you can work with.

“I scout every single match,” said Jordan Brenner, who kept tabs on the competition. “You don’t have to, but I like to, and you’d watch one robot and breakdown what they do and record the data.”

“You create a database and when you’re making an alliance it’s much easier to see which team you want to partner with,” said Sam Delattre, who does some of the mechanical and programming work for the team.

Consider the competition as more Hunger Games than Battle Bots, since it really depends on the partnerships and alliances you form when away from the field of battle.

“When you get to the finals you get to pick two other robots to be in the alliance, and it’s the group of three that gets to go to worlds if you win,” said Max Winter, another scout/

programmer. “You want to pick the best possible robots to give yourself the best chance.

“That’s what scouting comes down to — finding which robots are the best.”

It’s also desirable to be one of those teams. The captains of the Top 8 teams can pick their alliances so it’s important to be in that mix.

“Last year there were upwards of 99 robots in the competition so if you’re in the competition you have to know what they do and what you need to do to win the match,” said Daniel.

“You really want to secure a position so you can pick sooner than other teams.”

The program grew out of a similar effort started at St. Matthew Catholic elementary school about seven years ago before it moved on to the high school level.

“I heard robots and that was pretty much all it was for me,” said Dominic. “If I can make a robot, cool, let’s join.”

So, of all the Davids to name their robot after, why did the St. David Team Dave name it after the famous magician?

“Every year we try to name our robots after famous people named Dave,” said Daniel.

“Last year was David Letterman and this year it was David Blane, because we all thought the robot was magical.”


Click here to see the original article from the Waterloo Chronicle.