Highlander Robotics finishes 2nd in Fresno

Natalia Ferretti

Driver Coach Alex Ware, Driver Vaughn Khouri and Nate Hart wheel the robot to its next match

This weekend, 34 members of Highlander Robotics traveled to Fresno with their robot, Paddo the Frog, for the FIRST Robotics Competition Central Valley Regional. After finishing 4th out of 38 in qualification rounds, with a 10-2 record, they went 4-1 during the double elimination playoffs to challenge the first seed alliance captained by former world champion MadTown Robotics from Madera, CA. They lost two straight in the best of three finals to finish second overall.

The Highlanders gather at the end of a very exciting weekend.

The FIRST Robotics Competition announces a new game each January to be played by two alliances of three robots, built by 9th to 12th grade students, in an arena about the size of a basketball court. An entirely new robot must be constructed for each season, and competitions begin six weeks after kickoff. In this year’s game, Charged Up, robots up to 125 pounds and 6 feet, 6 inches high score points by collecting and placing 9.5-inch inflatable cubes and 1 foot high rubber cones in a grid of poles and pedestals, as well as by balancing robots on a seesaw-like platform called a “charging station.”

During regional competitions, teams play in 9 to 12 qualifying rounds with randomly selected partners. The highest ranked eight teams become alliance captains and draft two others to work with throughout the double-elimination playoffs. Draft selections are so key to success in the playoffs that all teams at the elite level dedicate significant time and personnel to track every robot’s performance in what can be well over 100 qualifying rounds.

The Highlanders, who reached division semifinals at the World Championships in 2022, had substantially improved their scouting system in anticipation of Charged Up. In the fall, Monte Vista freshman Jacob Trentini and Millennium High freshman Colin Cameron wrote an iPhone app while at an off-season competition that simplified scouting data collection. They were later joined by PHS freshman Cassie Colby and senior Barry Balasingham; the four expanded Trentini and Cameron’s proof of concept to a cross-platform collection system with score prediction and sophisticated analytic tools.

At the end of the first day of qualifications the Highlanders found themselves in third place after nine rounds, having dropped a single match due to an alliance partner’s malfunction. In their remaining three qualifiers they dropped to fourth after an agonizingly close loss to the East Palo Alto Churrobots, 82-80.

During the draft, the Highlanders became the third seed alliance captain. Their first pick, the fifth ranked Buchanan Bird Brains from Clovis, secured a solid scoring partner but their second pick, the 36th-ranked Breaker Bots from Pacific Grove, left many scratching their heads. “While they were close to the bottom of the rankings, the scouting data indicated they were ideal for defense,” said team captain Alex Ware.

In their first playoff round, the Highlanders suffered a huge upset by the sixth seed alliance when the Bird Brains robot malfunctioned and became disabled 45-seconds into the match. They fought back, however, and the gamble of their second pick paid off when they won four straight to clinch a finals appearance after edging out the second seed alliance captained by the Churrobots, 124-114.

In the best-of-three finals, the Highlanders lost in two world record-setting performances, 162-117 and 165-95, to a powerhouse alliance formed by MadTown Robotics from Madera, the Greybots from Atascadero, and the Arborbots from Visalia. MadTown and the Greybots are both former world champions with four titles between them including one they earned together in 2019.

Paddo the Frog was operated by Vaughn Khouri, Asha Byers, and Matteo Scanu and supported by drive coach Alex Ware, technician Nate Hart, and human player Ava Grochowski. Helena Young and Peter Stokes led the pit crew which kept the robot running smoothly through 19 full contact matches with turnarounds as quick as 30 minutes. Jasper Tripp led scouting and strategy operations. Lewy Seiden led a team of three ambassadors who fielded questions, built connections with other teams, and represented the team to FIRST Judges. Cassie Colby, Chloe Kessinger, and Caetano de Figueiredo presented the team’s Impact Award submission which documents efforts to spread FIRST core values and expand STEM education over the previous four years.

Highlander Robotics was founded in 2019 by brothers Henry and Charlie Lambert and is composed of 54 students from Piedmont High, Millennium High, The College Preparatory School, Las Lomas High, Stanford Online High, Lick Wilmerding, Maybeck, Monte Vista, Head Royce, and Bentley. They work from the Mary G. Ross Engineering Lab at Piedmont High School.

For more information contact Kevin Clark at kevin.clark@gmail.com or visit https://frc8033.com/.

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