‘Charging up’: GalacTech robotics team learns the game and prepares to build its ‘bot’

It’s back to work for a local robotics team as they work to understand a new game and build a new bot in time for this year’s competitions, which begin in March.

Team 4926 also known as GalacTech, invited members of the public into their workshop on Saturday for the 2023 For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition Kickoff.

The organization unveils a new challenge for FIRST Robotics Competition teams every year. High school students work with professional mentors to solve the engineering design problem, then work with other teams in alliances to play the game at competition events where they are also judged on design, innovation, culture changing behavior and performance.

FIRST’s livestream ran from noon to 1 p.m., with about 4,000 teams from around the world tuning in to learn about the 2023 challenge, said Columbus Robotics president and Team 4926 founder Sam Geckler.

The 2023 game for FIRST Robotics Competition teams is called “Charged Up” and is presented by the Gene Haas Foundation.

“It’s a representation of how our world might think about community-based electrification and charging,” said Geckler.

According to a short animated video from FIRST, the game involves moving cubes and cones into areas referred to as “grids” so that teams can score points and “charge up their community.” Teams also score points by moving their robots onto a teeter-totter platform known as the “charge station.” The game will be played by two alliances of three teams each.

After the initial reveal, GalacTech students spent time studying the 140-page game manual and planned out how to use their workshop to practice the game, said Geckler. Their homework, following kick-off-day, was to read the manual “cover to cover” in preparation for a test over the rules.

Geckler said that students are “really engaged” and excited to begin designing their robot. However, he noted that it’s important for the team to start by understanding the game and thinking about it from a long-term perspective.

“I really try to use the first 48 to 72 hours to get them to think about how the game is played,” said Geckler. “And not just how the game is played, I’ll say, singularly, but how will it be played in the first week of competition versus how will it be played in the state championship, because those could look very different.”

Some of the challenges of this year’s game will likely be maneuverability when scoring, balancing multiple robots on the charge station at a time, getting robots across the field quickly and thinking strategically.

“Charged Up” also presents a unique opportunity and challenge through a feature that rewards the two opposing alliances for working together. Each team has three grids, including a “coopertition grid.” If three game pieces are scored in the same row, this creates a link. Enough links will earn an alliance a “sustainability bonus.”

“If each alliance scores at least three pieces in the “coopertition” grid, the sustainability bonus threshold is lowered for both alliances,” FIRST officials said in the introductory video.

There will likely be a sort of negotiation between alliances, prior to the match, over whether they are willing to work together on achieving this goal, said Geckler.

Looking forward, GalacTech has seven weeks until community members will be invited back into their workshop on Feb. 27 for a “Robot Reveal,” with the team showing off the bot they’ve developed to play this year’s game.

“We’re terrified, but that’s the deadline before the deadline, so we’ll invite everyone at 6 p.m. on the 27th, and the students will show off whatever the heck it is we’ve built,” said Geckler.

The team will then compete at tournaments in Mishawaka and Lafayette in March. This year’s state competition is scheduled to take place at Anderson University in April.

Last April, GalacTech was part of the winning alliance at the FIRST Indiana State Championship. The team then competed at the international FIRST Championship in Houston, making it to division playoffs but not the final tournament. More than 450 high school teams from all over the world competed at the 2022 FIRST Robotics Competition championships, including groups from as close as Indianapolis and as far away as Israel.

This year’s FIRST Championship is set for late April and will be in Houston again.