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Thursday - My master plan to rent a van for the trip failed at the final moment, so I ended up driving my Honda Civic the 600+ miles to Indianapolis with 5 souls on board. Andrew, Julie Christopher, Gillian and Siri Maley made the trip with me. I drove, departing the Eagle ACME parking lot about 8:30 AM.

We kept up a lively conversation throughout the trip, mostly concerning team organization for 2012, training plans and expectations. Siri kept notes, so our musings were not lost and forgotten.

We made our first and only stop for lunch at Quaker Steak & Lube in Wheeling WV. This turns out to be the geometric centerpoint of our drive (within a few feet either way). America's best Hot Wings, curley straws & motorcycles hanging from the ceiling! What more could you ask for? Refueled immediately after lunch and moved on to Indianapolis.

Didn't stop again until we reached our hotel ~20:30. Faith & Foster rolled in a little later. We joined Faith's group for a very nice dinner at Applebee's.

Friday - Carly was sick for the day, leaving us with no option but to use IRI to train a new driver. Andrew. Unfortunately, due to our loss of home and the cancellation of PARC and BR2, we have had no driving practice since St. Louis. It's hard to think of a more interesting place to learn to drive than at IRI. Andrew did a great job (and brought a great attitude to a very tough situation), but we suffered in the qualification matches simply due to lack of experience. Douglas performed well as new Human Player.

Our sonar is broken and we've got no spare. Autonomous was therefore shut off. On the positive side, this allowed some alliance partners to score double Ubertubes.

We had a lot of interest in and questions about our drive-train from other teams. The Pivot Demo was a big draw. Most of those asking about out drive-train were well aquainted with out web-site. From my perspective, I studied a lot of excellent roller claws.

IRI dinner - lasagne - was very well done. Great job!

I was basically dead (or at best a Zombie) for the Talent Show. Fatigue & and fever. I think there were funny parts, but it is all a blur. At least I didn't bite anyone (in my zombie mode).

Carly was very sick for the whole day. Heather, who stayed at the hotel to care for her, said that she looked like a zombie too. Heather is a world-renouned authority on zombies, so this can be taken as gospel truth.

Saturday - Carly was back and unzombified, but comm failures in two matches left us in low ranking. we were not selected for an alliance.

The Mentor Match was a hoot! Foster advanced to the Semifinals.

Pit pack-up was fast and efficient.

My personal best part of the entire trip was 1640's assistance in disassembling and packing up the competition field. The whole team worked together at this. It was wonderful.

We drove on Saturday evening to Dayton, OH to allow us to begin our tour of the Air Force Museum early.

Sunday - Most of us arrived at the Air Force Museum in time for the first tour of the Presidential and Experimental Aircraft Hangers. With all due respect to the President, I blew off his hanger and concentrated on the Experimental Aircraft. What a great collection of aircraft! The sleek XB-70 Valkyrie dominates the hanger space, but my personal favorites were:

  1. The Republic XF-84H, a design derived from the F-84F Thunderstreak fitted with a turboprop engine (in lieu of the standard Allison J35 turbojet) and a constant-speed, supersonic propeller. The supersonic propeller gave this aircraft the dubious honor of being the world's loudest aircraft - able to disable ground crew by sound and sonic shock alone. Nicknamed the Thunderscreech as a result. Signal lights had to be rigged to communicate with the pilot. The aircraft had scary-bad flight characteristics. Who thought this up?
  2. The North American X-15. Before the Mercury program, Alan Shepard & John Glenn, Americans took their first tentative flights into space in the X-15 (only acknoledged as such later).

Alas, after the Experimental Aircraft Hanger, we had limited tome for the rest of the Museum. We took a quick walk through WWI (during which my maternal Grandfather was a fighter pilot with the RAF) and skipped ahead to ballistic missiles and the Cold War. My appologies to WWII and Korea.

After lunch at Olive Garden, we headed home with only one quick stop for fuel. We arrived back at Acme at 10 PM.

In Conclusion

  • Now that I've seen the Championship, I still this that this is the best robotics competition I've around.
  • We should endeavor to get invited again next year
  • The team should make plans accordingly
  • Competing at IRI will drive us to become a better team (because the altenative is embarasing)



With the trailer all packed on Wednesday and cars mostly-kinda-sorta sorted out, we left Downingtown (actually Eagle) at around 8:30AM. In an effort not to cram 5 people into a Honda Civic, Molly and Kira switched to Foster's van. I went down in the Civic with Clem driving and Andrew, Julie and Gillian in back. The whole <5 people plan didn't work out so much, but at least we had fun.

We spent most of the trip (the parts between laughs and our now-traditional good but eclectic music) discussing possible off-season schedules and team organization. At the request of my manager (himself pre-occupied with the whole driving thing), I broke with IRI trip tradition and took notes. Very clever idea, I might even remember to do it myself next time.

Equally as clever, our first and only stop was a Quaker Steak & Lube. In addition to being within a couple feet of our voyage's geographic mid-point, it also has the best wings in the US, not to mention crazy straws, rather tasty salad and let's-call-it-meatloaf, and ceiling-mounted rotating motorcycles that would look great in a living room. Plus, as Gillian pointed out, the "Eat Here" sign is pretty hard to say no to. And to top it all off, it's the second year in a row we've walked in to the playing of "Mr. Roboto". Definitely a worthwhile stop.

Our refuel by Quaker Steak carried us all the way to the Indianapolis hotel. Rita and Ruth beat us there and Foster and Faith showed up soon afterwards. After a quick check in, we headed out with Faith's van for a town drive and a great dinner at Applebee's. I eat better with robotics guys that pretty much any other time. Some scouting prep and that annoying "day" job work and I finally got to sleep.


An early move-in and some practice field time got DEWBOT VII all set for its IRI debut. Unfortunately, we missed our on-field practice match, which caused some communication difficulties in our first qualifier. More unfortunately, this season's base driver, Carly, was sick. This is rather an understatement; I have it on good authority that she was very zombie-like. Our first match was rough as Sasha, our traditional arm driver had to take over driving base, while Andrew, our traditional human player, took arm...and Doug, our Safety Captain, stepped in for human player. Everyone did a great job stepping up to the plate in a difficult situation, but unsurprisingly it was a rough match.

Andrew and Sasha then switched jobs and Andrew got some utterly invaluable experience with defensive driving. It's a steep learning curve, but he's by far the most gifted driver we've had--watch out for him next year! Lack of practice coordinating base and arm functions and a measure of stupidity on my part got us into some trouble on offensive missions, but we made it. The scouting kept us in line on defense and the robot didn't take a whole lot of abuse. There were just a few pit checklist oversights (holy smokes has that gotten better), and no major mechanical failures. We did have some communication blips that made an already difficult driving experience even harder, but the Team took it like champs.

Unfortunately, sans home facilities, autonomous couldn't be worked on before IRI. We turned it off for all our matches, though this is actually harder than it seems. Apparently FTPing has a few complexities we weren't familiar with, which pulled us a penalty in one match (and gave me DEWBOT IV flashbacks). Luckily it got straighten out, and our alliance partners often attempted and succeeded with double tube autonomous scores. Unfortunately, we did lose one Ubertube to an opposing roller claw in teleop, but other than that we kept our "get it in the zone" promise if the double tube run missed. Ah, roller claws.

After matches wrapped up, we handed the robot off to the programmers and found out just how comfortable the floor beside the practice field is. After a magnificent lasagna dinner and a tasty cupcake, I officially crashed. Coming out of several days of no food and little sleep, even the relief of Thursday couldn't save me. I made it through the talent show in a semi-dignified fashion, I think. (Having spent a good portion of my life in the performing arts, I loathe to fade off during performances.) The DSK concert did me in, though. Both were great, but I really should have been sleeping. Apparently I wasn't doing that whole walking straight, seeing clearly, blood-to-the-head thing by the end of it. Again on good authority, I was a zombie by the time I got back to the room. Luckily, my favorite zombie expert roommate didn't see fit to attack me. Apparently Carly's contagious though, because she was fine by that night and both Clem and I were members of the undead. Foster saw that I made it back without completely un-animating, and we beat Clem by about 40 minutes. On the minimal plus side, there's nothing quite as terrifying or adrenalin-inducing as not knowing where a zombie is. Unfortunately the curing effect is only temporary, as the night stunk pretty royally.

Coach's check

Rough night made for a very rough morning, but thankfully I managed to shake it off by the first match. Nothing like a coach's instinct at IRI to re-rationalize you. As noted on Friday night, Carly came back to life. After a quick drive team meeting, we agreed Andrew would drive a couple more matches for the defense experience, and Carly would take over from there. Andrew continued to learn rapidly, and I continued to learn how to coach him and what to spend our very limited now quasi-practice time doing. After another quick drive team meeting, we ensured Andrew was actually familiar with all the necessary technical aspects of the Driver's Station. Lesson for DEWBOT VII season: training replacements. Certainly a worthwhile one.

Carly took over for the last few matches, but unfortunately didn't get much stick time. We jetted off during autonomous for the first time since early Friday (though luckily avoiding the penalty), completely lost arm control, and soon after lost all communication. The next match, comm went down again. Lesson 2 for DEWBOT VII: cross-discipline training, and we need electrical knowledge/oversight. Rough way to end, but we definitely learned a lot, and it was more fun than it sounds like.

After alliance selection, the Weissmans, Kelloms, Clem, Foster, Rizzo and I stuck around for the real IRI competition: the Mentor Match. Foster and Rizzo both put up admirable efforts, rocketing across the field on their stomachs riding kitbot chassis to send Mighty Mouse up its Tower. Rizzo unfortunately lost in the first round, but Foster made it to the second (when he almost convinced his opponent to come to his own Tower). After the match, Clem, Foster and I made short work of the pit and then indulged in the fine dining of Lawrence North concession stands and the excellent Andy Baker-provided Indiana corn. In the mean time, the programmers grabbed lunch and then stayed working on the practice field. It drives straight! Sorry we blew that front sonar sensor in qualifications. And many thanks to Alan Anderson and the host teams for keeping the field up as long as they possibly could.

Field breakdown

The rest of the team got back during the quarterfinals, and we packed up the trailer in time for me to catch the last 45 seconds of the final finals match. No 29 elimination matches like last year, but at least Rizzo-the-Ref was happy. The competition was over by 4PM, but with dinner reservations stuck at 7PM, not even we could kill 3 hours on team pictures. After floating a few ideas, Foster got the plan to help the host teams break down the field. We all made short work of the task (except for carpet rolling; that's long) and had a lot of fun doing it. In fact, we made such short work of it that we eventually decided to cancel the reservations and leave for Dayton early. We got to the border and had a nice team dinner at Great Wall at about the time we would have ordered food in Indianapolis. This broke up the drive well, and we managed to get to Dayton in time for a mentor night out before the bar's "live" "music" got too excruciating. (P.S. If you were wondering, manually raising the volume on a random sound mixer isn't actually "live music" in any sense of either word.) Good time though, and a night of "day" job work and even some sleep had me ready for Sunday's Air Force museum tour.


What can I say, I'm a sucker for a good Air Force museum (I realize this is hard to believe). After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we headed straight (err, basically) for the museum and got on the bus to the ridiculously cool Experimental Aircraft Hangar. I hear there were some presidential planes nearby, but the former alone was way too amazing for the 40 minutes we got there.

Back at the main museum, we checked out the Early Years Gallery. Just as interesting as last year, but improved this time by the efforts of our own omniscient tour guide. We then headed to the penultimate Cold War Gallery and checked out the view from the Missile & Space Gallery. And of course, our crew (Clem, Rizzo, Heather, and I) had to compete for the second annual "coolest photo in the F-16 or F-4D cockpit" contest. Rizzo's F-16 shot of me last year is still the reigning champion. We spent the entire 2 hours in those galleries -- no complaints, maybe we'll get to SE Asia's next year.

After a quick meeting, a few short squirrel chases, and some more prolonged "why can't I just read everything in this gift shop" musings, our car headed out for lunch (albeit via the pleasant and now-traditional scenic route). With Gillian's approval, we had some great food and discussion at Olive Garden before hitting the road again. Thanks to the commendable mpg of Honda Civics, Clem's driving, and Julie's GPS, we made it home by around 10PM. Much like the other rides, this one was filled with productive conversation, team bonding and a whole lot of laughter all around (including from Gillian). Why are the IRI and FLR car trips always the most productive several dozen hours of our season?

  • IRI rocks. I mean, FIRST rocks, but IRI is another beast entirely.
  • The Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum is also way up there.
  • Understandably, our record landed between DB3 Pittsburgh and DB7 FLR, but personally the event's in my top 4. Definitely the people that make the experience.
  • We need to work on training in a lot of areas, but we've definitely got great kids and mentors.
  • I definitely learn a whole lot here, in several areas. Didn't have as much networking or touring time as last year, though.
  • Coaching here takes a lot more preparation time than I historically have at IRI. On the plus side, I coached with Raul Olivera. Osmosis, maybe?
  • We should break down fields more often.


Driving the Great Cupcake

In 2010 IRI was one of the high points of my robot season (winning VEX Mentor of the Year beat it) so I had high expectations from this years trip.

Picked up the rental van, was gassed and at the assembly point at 8:15. After some swaps in the seating chart, my co-pilot Rizzo, along with Kira, Molly, Carley, Paul and Ian rolled at exactly 8:30. Ninety minutes later and at the end of the first Rizzo created mix CD, we dropped into the Blue Mountain rest area for a 10 minute stop. We reloaded with breakfast foods, reshuffled drivers and the music CD and we were off again.

Ninety minutes wash, rinse, repeat. I like to stop briefly and often just to zap the kinks out. It also gives us a chance to get repeat looks at some of the vehicles on the road. In our case we saw the famous Robosaurus the car eating machine. Very cool.

At 1:15 we met up with two of the other cars at Quaker Steak and Lube, striding in to the song "Mr. Roboto" (I think they play it special for us, they see our robot shirts). We all groove on the 2 foot long twisty straws and staring at the dragster powered by a 5 HP lawnmower engine. I'm a big fan of the buffet since I can get 3-4 different kinds of wings. After eating and relaxing for an hour we mount up and headed out at 2:15 PM. We are half way, 305 miles to go.

Two hours and 130 miles later we are at our next rest stop in Newark,Ohio. Car thermometer registers 102 degrees, so it was a quick run from the car into the rest area and back again.

Coming up on dinner time, I convince the car that they want to have Skyline chilli. They need Skyline Chilli. The goal of the trip isn't IRI but eating Skyline chili. After the hard sell they all agree. I get Rizzo to pull out the laptop and try to find a nearby Skyline Chili to eat at. He finds two, one we would hit at 5:30, the next at 6. Democratic car vote, we are on our way to the Indiana Border and Skyline Chili, ETA 6PM. Take the exit, gentle slide down route 40, miss the street, quick U turn, back and there we are, the holy grail of chili in Indiana and Ohio, Skyline Chili! One that we rapidly determine is closed. Sigh.

On to plan B. McD? Chinese buffet? Long John Silver? We settle for Steak and Shake as a compromise. I love their burgers, some of the roboteers got chicken that they said was very good. The braver eaters try the hot pepper sauce. An hour later and we are flying west into the sunset and into the heart of Indiana.

With Rizzo at the wheel we make the hotel at 8:10 PM, total of 628 miles for the day. We do a "stop, drop and roll" flinging roboteers out of the car. Rizzo and I then dash off to the Mentor Dinner at IRI, our first official event. We meet up with 40 other mentors for Mexican food served by one of the host teams. It was a nice meet and greet, good to catch up with people we only see on-line or once a year.


On Friday morning we hit the free breakfast buffet and are in the cars at 7:15 rolling to North Lawrence High School. Team 1640 unloads the trailer in record time, not due to efficiency but that it's already 85 outside. They set up and I wander away to check out the event. Lots of great robots and I work my way around the pits to see who has what and how they do it. Since I don't have an explicit job with the team, I had lots of free time to watch matches, see robots, wander around, and eat.

Lets talk about Indiana for a second. It's flat, good climate, good soil, lots of great crops grow there. Like corn. Indiana sweet corn. People from our area will tell you that New Jersey sweet corn is the best. They would be wrong. Anyway, sweet corn is in season, and there is a very nice lady who picked it at 8AM, soaked it in water, and grilled it. She peels back the slightly charred husk, revealing perfectly cooked corn, with a few caramelized kernels. She then dips it in butter, adds a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and hands it over. It's Indiana's version of crack. Across the day I have 4 ears.

At the end of the robot competition day we head down to for dinner of salad, lasagna and cupcakes. We then head into the auditorium for the annual talent show. The show is made up of two parts, roboteers showing off their talents (and in some cases a lack of same) and the judges who add comments and a small level of snark to the festivities. The show was wonderful with a motorized cupcake as the star of a "Charlie Brown" skit, an amazing dance routine from team 341 and the winner Ian from team 217 playing guitar The talent show was followed by Dean Simmons and the Kamen brothers, a mentor band that does rock songs that have lyrics updated with robot references.

We staggered out at 9:30 and headed back to our hotel for much, much needed rest. Well sort of, we make sure that our roboteers and mentors are safely back into the hotel. Rizzo and I then head to a nearby cantina for some much needed cervezas. (Hey live large in Indiana, sweet corn and Mexican cervezas in the same day).


Saturday is a repeat of Friday with cool robot matches, the addition for me is the NEMO meeting. At noon is the mentor match, both Rizzo and I are signed up to compete.

But first is the motorized cupcake! The star of yesterdays talent show is out in the open. And we can drive it! So I get in for a quick spin around the pit area. It's very cool and well within our build abilities so I'm thinking cupcake races for next year.

Historically the mentor match has been when the mentors compete with the robots. This has often not gone well since as a group we are somewhat over enthusiastic and under trained. We have desire, not so much on the eye hand coordination. That translates into damaged robots that need to participate in the elimination tournament after lunch. So this year they created 6 wheeled bases that the mentor could kneel or lay on. The game is to wheel across the floor using your hands only, get to your tower and launch the mini bot. Mentors play 4 at a time, the first two minibot winners head into the next round.

2nd score for Foster
Rizzo plays and does a great job, but places third. So the team pressure falls on me. I kick off the wall, dig hard and when I'm almost to the pole hit the mentor coming the other way. Bonus for me is that I have about 75 lbs of mass over him, that and some extra momentum means we both are going my way (love physics in action.) That coupled with the surprise allows me to push us both to my tower and place second. Off to the semifinals!

In the semis it's a repeat. Push off, head down, dig hard. The other mentor sees me coming and swerves out of the way, I slap the minibot on the pole. I place second!! I'm off to the finals!!! Wait, I'm DQ'ed for touching the floor with my feet. I walk away to console myself with some more sweet corn. (I did exercise some restraint on Saturday, only three ears the entire day).

We didn't make the elimination, even with Andrew coming quickly up to speed. (IRI is not the place to be a first time driver). We are treated to some exciting matches, the teams at IRI are indeed the best in the world.

Only thing on my IRI todo list is Skyline Chili. Faith comes to the rescue, she had taken some of the team off campus for lunch. She agrees to pick up Coney Dogs (with Chili, onions and cheese) for Rizzo and I. So I get to watch the top teams drive the wheels off their robots and Skyline Chili, how could my life get any better?

At 4PM IRI is over, we are packed and ready to go. We have team dinner planned at 7PM, so only three hours to kill. We can kill three hours at a mall or helping tear down. I opt for teardown and wrangle all of the mentors, roboteers and we head over to the main arena. It's a ton of stuff, it will take at least 2 hours to pack it up.

Wrong. Add 20 people to the small team that was there and we were all done in an hour. Super, now just two hours to kill. I start calculating, 7PM dinner, an hour plus to eat, then drive to Dayton, bed at 11PM. Rizzo mumbles "we should just go", I'm already thinking that. So we discuss this with the team and decide to split up and head out.

On the highway we are thinking of where we can eat on the way back. We know that Skyline chili is off the list. But wait, there was a Chinese buffet we saw at the border on Thursday. Rizzo whips out the laptop, Google is his friend. Quick call to make sure they have non-Chinese items on the menu. We get the address and pass the invite, we can all meet there. Team dinner saved!

The food was good, and everyone found something to eat. There are some cool pictures of the sea of yellow and blue shirts, we do stand out in a crowd.

At 8:58 we shut down the van and start the check in process. By 9:30 the mentors are all in civilian clothing and headed to Joe's for a status meeting. A good discussion that could have gone on longer if the live music had not cranked up the sound system to 11.


Sunday we all slept in. We hit the hotel breakfast buffet and loaded into the vans. At 8:45 were were at the Air Force Museum just outside of Wright Patterson AFB. We got set up to go to the on-base portion of the museum, the collection of Air Force One's and the Research and Development planes. The R&D planes are amazing, you can go up and almost touch them (they ask nicely to not touch, so we don't) We could only spend 40 minutes and I was able to the R&D hanger and a running tour of one of the Air Force One's.

Back at the main section we split up. I'm an IMAX junkie so I watched the movie "Fighter" while the rest of the car toured the museum. The museum is pretty amazing and I'm looking forward to 2014 when they move the R&D planes to the main site. There is so much to see and do there, it would be easy to spend an entire 8 hour day there.

At noon we loaded up and headed back east. I'll spare you the details of the 510 mile trip, and our 4 rest stops. We pulled into the parking lot at 8:45 PM. Safe arrival!


As with last year, IRI 2011 was a blast:

  • 66 cool robots
  • 66 cool minibots - 93% direct drive, 50% of them magnet, the other 50% clips.
    • The other 7% had some kind of gearing, they were all slower than the direct drive
  • Indiana sweet corn
  • Seeing the top teams play, watching their match strategies
  • Playing in the mentor match
  • Skyline chili
  • Driving the Cupcake
  • Talent show
  • Meeting all the cool teams
  • Talking to other mentors about what they do
  • Research and Development planes
  • Rizzo's music mix

Hope we get invited next year!

Other pages about the DEWBOT VII Indiana Robotics Invitational

DEWBOT VII IRI Photo Gallery