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By Jim Sprague

Dexter’s FIRST Robotics team turned in another strong performance at the Lincoln Regional Competition, held March 22 and 23 at Ypsilanti’s Lincoln High School.  Dexter’s 2nd place finish, along with their earlier 1st place finish at the Belleville competition, has the team currently ranked 9th in the state, out of the 549 teams competing in Michigan in 2019.  As the State Championships typically invite the top 160 teams, the Dreadbots expect to be mixing it up with the best in the state at Saginaw Valley State University on April 10-13.

After a rough start, the Dreadbots diagnosed an intermittent short circuit that occurred after adding a structural frame reinforcement and ended up qualifying 4th out of the 41 teams competing with an 8-4-0 record.  While the drive team was on the playing field collecting qualifying points, the Dreadbot scouting team compiled data on the strengths and weaknesses of the other robots, to aid the strategy team in making the best selections for alliance partners in the Finals.  Additional team members staffed the pits, were interviewed by event judges, and introduced countless visitors to their team and their robot.

The Dreadbots served as captain for the 3rd seeded alliance in Finals competition.  Along with their alliance partners the Whiteford Bobcats (Team # 6570 from Ottawa Lake) and the Steiner Steel Storm (Team # 5067 from the Rudolf Steiner School, Ann Arbor), the Dreadbots fought past every higher ranked team in the quarter finals and the semi-finals, even setting high score for Finals play (91 points).  During Semi-Finals play, a particularly violent hit from an opposing robot tore off the Dreadbot’s rear bumper, causing match officials to disable (E-Stop) Dexter’s machine mid-match, in accordance with competition rules.  Dexter’s alliance lost that match, but minutes later, fought back in the tie-breaker round with a hastily reinforced bumper to advance to the finals.  The Dreadbots’ final opponent was the surprisingly effective 8th seeded alliance consisting of F.E.A.R. the Termigators (Team # 5853 from Arbor Prep, Ypsilanti), the Greenhills Lawnmowers (Team # 5530 from Greenhills School, Ann Arbor), and the Byting Irish (Team # 7660 from Fr. Gabriel Richard School, Ann Arbor).  After a first match loss, the Dreadbots countered with a strategy change, but still ended up dropping the final hard-fought match by a score of 83 to 81.

In addition to the points from on-field competition play, the event judges singled out Dexter for another award, which also added ranking points to help qualify the team for State and World Competition.  The Xerox Corporation sponsored this year’s Creativity Award, which “Celebrates creativity in design, use of component, or strategy of play.”  The Dreadbot’s student-designed manipulator was called out as being highly original in concept and execution, due to its incorporation of a unique air-spring actuated suction-cup “grabber” for the plastic disc game pieces, along with a fast “intake/shooter” for inflated ball game pieces.

FIRST events are family friendly, fun and free to attend.  Visit https://firstinmichigan.us/FRC/events/to find out more about upcoming events, including the State Championships, as well as the World Championships, to be be held April 24-27 at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

Dexter area families with science or robot-inclined children younger than High School may be interested in helping to form a FIRST program at their child’s level.  Plans are underway to start a new FIRST LEGO League (FLL) program for Dexter area 4th – 6th graders this fall.  The FLL program builds robots based on the LEGO Mindstorm system.  See https://www.firstinspires.org/robotics/fllfor information about this exciting program!  Additional FIRST programs could be started for 1st-3rdgrades (Jr. FLL) and for 7th and 8th grades (FTC – FIRST Tech Challenge). The Dreadbot organization stands ready to assist in navigating these waters, but we need interested families! Please contact DHSDreadbotOutreach@gmail.com for information and to let us know if you and your child would like to start building robots like the Dreadbot team!

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