New Year, New Challenges

Community High’s robotics team faces a new year and a new robot, bringing new challenges.


Senior Zenna Hodges and sophomore Cort Toschlog-Green make final preparations before a match at competition in Gaylord, Michigan. Before a match, the team must make sure the foam bumpers on their robot are switched to the right color—either red or blue—to correspond to their alliance for that round.

Excited teams pack a noisy high school gym. A buzzer goes off, and six 120-pound masses of metal, three clad in red, and three in blue, surge forward, completely autonomously. A bell sound chimes, and six robot drivers grab their joysticks. Two minutes later, the match is over, and scores are announced. One group wins, one group loses. This is just one of many tournaments that make up the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the premiere robotics competition for high schools around the world. With the new year approaching, Community High School’s own FRC team, called 5708 Zebrotics, is preparing for the upcoming season.

The competition’s season starts in January with a kickoff event, where teams from  high schools around the world gather and watch as the game—the task the robot has to do—is presented. After the reveal, the teams break off into their own rooms and discuss what they have to do, what the playing field is like, and come up with a plan. This is the start of the “build season,” the allotted time of about six weeks that each team has to design, build, program, and test their robot before the tournaments start.

Starting the last week of February, the competition season begins. During this segment of the season, each team competes in district competitions, then has the chance to move onto the next tier of tournament.Michigan teams must first go to a state competition, as there are too many teams and district competitions in Michigan to send all qualifying teams from districts to the world competitions. Teams compete in alliances with two other teams, with alliances changing every match of the qualifying rounds. After the qualifying rounds come the final rounds. The top teams then each become an “alliance captain” and may choose two other teams to compete alongside, forming a consistent alliance for the final rounds. If a team is not in the top eight by the end of the qualifying rounds, they still have a chance to make it to the finals should they be chosen by an alliance captain.

Led by Community High science teacher Christia West, Team 5708 saw its first season in 2015, and has had varying issues in each past year. In their first year, although the robot was able to complete to task, it didn’t cooperate well with the other teams of their alliances. The next year, they faced issues with overheating motors that required them to use snow from outside to cool them down.

The main problem 5708 faced last year was disorganization, lack of communication, and tomfoolery between the sub-teams, the specialized groups within the team who each focus on one aspect of the season. To overcome these challenges, West has reworked the operation of the team. Within the redesigned organization, there are six different sub-teams, as opposed to only four last year. The field team figures out what the robot needs to do, the design team designs it, and the fabrication team builds it. While the electrical team installs the electronics and other control systems in the robot, the programming team writes all the necessary code for the robot to work. Finally, the marketing team manages team publicity and merchandise.

Despite challenges faced in the past, and still being a young team compared to the likes of Skyline High School’s 3322 “Eagle Imperium” and Pioneer’s 1076 “Samurai,” Zebrotics is going into the season strong, with more members than ever before, and is prepared to a season of challenges, fun, and success.