It’s been less than three months since the Lutz-based Trinity Dragons had a strong showing at the 2016 Vex World Robotics Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, yet the club’s high school team is already strategizing for next year’s robotics season. While other robotics clubs may take some time off to regroup and recharge their batteries, that isn’t the case for Team 6430.
The team —Braeden Adams, 15; Sean Carr, 17; Maddie Jones, 16; and, RJ Walters, 17 has been working diligently in hopes of building off last year’s achievements and again reaching the world championships.
“We try to tell them to take a couple months off, but it never works,” said Ray Carr, robotics coach for the Trinity Dragons. “They just start building again as soon as the (robotics) parts show up.
“It is nonstop,” the coach said.
The group often spends 30 hours a week building a Vex robot from scratch, and then methodically attempts to optimize it for a particular Vex robotic challenge. The process is arduous. It consists of designing a robotic prototype from a combination of intricate software, and mechanical equipment and sensors.
“Software makes a big difference, and how you run control systems and stuff like that,” said Ray Carr, the chief technical officer for OccamMD, a leading engineering services firm. “That’s where they’ve excelled — getting their controls working and their software working, and making it different than just a robot that can drive (itself).”
This past season, Team 6430 won the Florida Vex Robotics State Championship and finished ninth among 500 teams at the world championships, which consisted of more than 16,000 participants from 37 nations.
The 2016 competition, called “Nothing But Net” required teams to construct robots that could essentially score as many balls into goals during a two-minute span.
A replay of the 2016 Vex Robotics World Championships will be airing on ESPN2 on July 20.
Competing —and teaming up — with elite teams from other countries inside the 1.2 million square-foot Kentucky Exposition Center proved to be a fulfilling experience, team members said. They interacted with students from nations like Canada, New Zealand, China, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
“The human element is the most important part,” Ray Carr said, “because it gives them exposure to managing teams and managing people. They’re learning about real-world applications and real-world interfaces; it’s been really good for them.”
“I have a lot of friends that I actually met online through this stuff, and then we got to go to Worlds and I (was able) to meet them,” Walters said.
Admittedly, Team 6430 has come a long way since the club formed about four years ago. Then, they were only involved with “real simple stuff,” often not standing a chance against more polished robotics teams.
“We were getting ourselves killed,” Ray Carr candidly acknowledged. “They really struggled when they started; they’ve really kind of progressively learned.
“We’ve always stressed during their development to keep it simple,” he added. “The fact that (the robot) even turns on and runs each time is a big deal.”
For them, the process of putting together a high-functioning robot — including the countless batteries and motors they’ve burned through — is what ultimately creates a sense of accomplishment.
“It’s a very satisfying feeling when something actually works for once,” Jones said.
“It’s fun to put all this time into something and actually see it work in a competition,” Adams said.
While the Trinity Dragons’ Team 6430 ranks as the top robotics team in Florida, the coach insists the group’s merit isn’t based on the number of tournaments they win, or how many awards they rack up.
Instead, it’s more about following three interlocking pillars: faith, family and fun.
“We’re a Christian-based team; character is really most important,” Ray Carr said.
“We never started it to win. It’s just they’ve done well, but it’s never, ever been about that,” he added.
“Some teams will check MCAT scores, SAT scores or you have to try out, but we never did that. We just had families that got together and started,” the coach said.
This year’s Vex robotics challenge, named “Starstruck,” will be played on a 12-by-12 square field, in which two alliances consisting of two robotics teams each, compete in matches consisting of a 15-fifteen second autonomous period, followed by 1 minute and 45 seconds of driver-controlled play.
The object of the game is to attain a higher score than the opposing alliance by having each robot place “stars” and “cubes” in designated zones, and remotely hanging robots onto a hanging pole.
Team 6430 will constantly tweak their robot — which they’ve already assembled — to master the art of “Starstruck,” as they compete in monthly regional tournaments, beginning in September. The team’s goal is to again qualify for the VEX World Robotics Championships, and to have another strong performance.
“Throughout our season, we’ll try a lot of things,” said Sean Carr, the coach’s son.
“It’s like your little baby the whole season,” Walters said. “You’ve got to take care of it.”
Students interested in joining the Trinity Dragons robotics team can reach Ray Carr at (813) 679-1795.
Published July 13, 2016