Robots take to the court for regional tournament at Aviano
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 28, 2017
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Basketball season might have just ended, but McNeely Gym will be full of competitors playing a variation on hoops this weekend.
Aviano hosts a FIRST regional robotics tournament on Friday and Saturday, with 15 other teams from DODEA and international schools vying for the rights to go to the world championships in the States.
It’s the first time that a DODEA-Europe school has hosted such an event, said tournament director Dave Izzo. Organizers would like it to mark the beginning of an annual tradition.
“I’m hoping we can advance two DODDS teams to the world championships because it’s never been done before,” said Jim Rowell, the mentor/coach of Aviano’s team.
Aviano has gone the past two years, qualifying at a regional tournament in the Czech Republic. Vilseck is the only other team in Europe to have sent a team to the world championships before. Vilseck, two teams from Ramstein, Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart and Lakenheath are all taking part. So are five local national teams from the Netherlands, another from Germany and American School of Barcelona.
The Dutch teams are expected to pose stiff challenges to the American teams, as they’ve been a part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology competition for years, Izzo said. In fact, five referees are coming from the Netherlands to officiate the event.
The mission assigned to the teams changes every year. Last year, Aviano students designed a robot that could pull itself up a ramp and complete a series of tasks. This year, the robots are essentially playing a game of basketball with Whiffle balls, known as Velocity Vortex. Teams can also score by claiming beacons on the 12-foot-square court and parking at various spots.
Two teams are randomly paired into alliances. They begin competition with two other teams beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday. Winning teams advance to elimination matches, where they choose to captain an alliance with a team that was previously eliminated. The new pairings then compete for the title. The captain team of the winning alliance and the inspiration award winner qualify for the world championships, set for April in St. Louis.
It’s not all about the robots competing, though. Teams have to turn in engineer notebooks — daily diaries detailing their projects — and are also judged on the way they conduct themselves and interact with other teams.
Teams have been working on the projects after school and on weekends since getting the challenge in September.
Senior Julia Markel has been a member of the last two Aviano teams to advance to the world championships. She’s not predicting a third straight visit, but she’s hopeful.
“We’d just like to do as well as she can,” she said. “Usually, it’s the best robot that wins.”
Dave Izzo, then-adviser to Aviano's robot club, and lead engineer Kyle Kochan demonstrate how a robotic arm is designed to pull the robot up a ramp before a competition last year. Izzo is the director of this year's regional robotics tournament, which takes place at Aviano on Friday and Saturday.
KENT HARRIS/STARS AND STRIPES