An inside look at Team 4153

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By Cary Bronson

On Pi Day, a team of 12 high school students, their mentors and a handful of parent chaperones boarded a charter bus.
Over the next three days, they would finally get to test their skills against other teams, to the cheers of an audience of hundreds.
They are no ordinary team. They are the FIRST Robotics Competition team 4153, aka Project Y.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was founded by Dean Kamen, president of DEKA Corporation, in 1989.
In his words, the mission of FIRST is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”
The FIRST Robotics Competition, or FRC, has been called “the varsity sport for the mind.” Each team is given six weeks to build a robot to compete against other robots in a sports-like event. The competitions are designed to test engineering skills, driver skills and strategy, teamwork, gracious professionalism (a term coined by FIRST National Advisor Dr. Woodie Flowers), and what the FIRST founders call “coopertition,” blend of competition and cooperation.
On Jan. 7, Team 4153 gathered in the conference room of Building 5 at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, to prepare for the event.
The game for the competition  was called “Rebound Rumble.” Two alliances of three robots each would shoot basketballs through hoops on the ends of a court. In the middle of the court, there was a barrier, crossed by three tilting bridges. At the end of the two-minute game, the robots could balance on those bridges for bonus points.
If two robots from opposing alliances balanced on the middle bridge, they would both earn even more points.
Building began immediately. After several hours, they had outlined a vision for their robot. On Feb. 21, the vision became a reality.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the group met at 5 p.m. at UNM-LA. After a brief team meeting, they split up into subgroups and continued to work until 8 p.m. Each Saturday, they would assemble at 10 a.m.
Downstairs, the machine shop was filled with the whirring and grinding of the chassis/drive train and manipulator sub-teams, making the parts for the robot out of raw stock material.
Upstairs, the electronics and programming sub-teams colonized the science lab next to the robotics lab and assembled, wired and programmed the robot’s electronic “brain.”
As the weeks wore on the robot, which was named Oppie (in honor of J. Robert Oppenheimer), took shape. Feb. 21 was “Bag Day,” the day when, at midnight, work on the robot had to completely stop and the robot had to be placed in a special bag provided by FIRST. The group worked up to the last second.
At around 5 a.m. March 14, Oppie was loaded into the cargo compartment of a charter bus. After one final roll call, the group set off. Almost 12 hours later, they unloaded their luggage at a hotel in West Valley City, Utah, down the street from the Maverik Center, the ice hockey arena where the event would take place.
That evening, a handful of members unloaded Oppie at the center and set up the Pit. The next morning, they all walked down to the center and claimed their seats in the stands. The programming sub-team was touching up some code that had not quite been completed on Bag Day.
Meanwhile, the group sent around scouts to look at the robots other teams had designed. One of the members stood at the entrance to the Pit, intercepting scouts and give a sales pitch touting Oppie’s virtues. Thursday was used as a final testing day. On that day,  the systems were perfected, programming was completed and Oppie was made competition-worthy.
The next morning, as the group watched their robot compete, they evaluated the other robots on the field. The teams that got into the elimination rounds (quarterfinals to finals) were allowed to choose the other two robots on their alliance.
They won many of their matches. Their drivers demonstrated skill. The design and components they incorporated over the six weeks of build season seemed to pay off on the field.
They regularly scored more points than any other robot on the field. In the end, Team 4153 placed 14th. It wasn’t high enough to get into the elimination rounds, so some of the members resigned themselves to packing up and watching the last matches.
Then, however, the third place team picked them as one of their alliance members. Unlike in the qualification matches, they would stay with those robots for the rest of their matches. They got all the way to the semifinal round, by far the furthest of any rookie team.
In the end, they won three awards: the Safety Award, given to the team that kept their pit the neatest and safest; the Rookie Inspiration Award, for the rookie team that demonstrated exceptional FIRST spirit and community outreach; and the Highest Rookie Seed award. The bus ride home was filled with the hung-over fatigue of victory. Even though they had not won and would not be going to the national tournament, they had given quite a strong showing  in Utah and made a name for Project Y.    
On March 28, the team assembled in the Robotics Lab, just as they had during build season. They discussed various ways to improve the design of the robot, even though the competition had already ended. While the challenge will be different next year, many of the technologies necessary will be similar.
They began planning out the rest of the year, including the community events they would participate in. For example, on May 19, they will be at Co-Op Rocks. In the words of Mrs. Anton, “We want to give back to this community as much as they have given to us.”
Team 4153 will host an open house at 6:30 p.m. April 24 in Building 2 at UNM-LA, where visitors will get to see Oppie in action. Recruitment for Team 4153 will begin in May.
For more information on the challenge, visit  youtube.com/user/FRCTeamsGlobal.