Robotics Team advances to World Championship after Regional victory in Peoria


Driver coach Brenden Allen, advising the drivers of the robot, Joey McCarey and Maddie Laffey, as they lead Lane to an undefeated record at their regional playoff competition to advance to the World Championship in Detroit. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Gost)

By Renato Arteaga, Reporter

The Varsity Robotics team, X-Machina, went undefeated March 16 in their Central Illinois Regional playoff competition to advance to the World Championship, where they will have the chance to compete with teams from across the globe.

In the six years since the team was started at Lane, this is the third time they have advanced to the World Championship. Previously in World, the highest they have placed was in the top third out of 400 teams. This year, they look to outdo their previous achievements.

The tournament was played as a best of three games series made up of three rounds. Lane was able to win all six elimination games to claim the victories with their alliance, which was made up of Argos and the Roboteers, two other robotic teams, according to Brendan Allen, Div. 852, a member of the robotics team since his sophomore year.

All the robots compete in alliances of three and play matches lasting three minutes long. This year’s game was called “Power Up,” with the playing field as big as a college basketball court.

The robots gain points by carrying milk crate sized yellow cubes and scoring them on plates that control game elements called switches, or a large scale at the center of the field. When the scale, or the switch, on the alliance’s own side of the field is tipped in the alliance’s favor, they earn points based on how long they have control of it, according to the official game manual.

“The gist of the game is stacking cubes and getting points over time,” Allen said. “Each alliance has their switch, on opposite sides of the field. In the middle, there’s the scale. You get points for having ownership of any of the items.”

There were five people on the field representing X-Machina that led them to the victory: the robot drivers who control the movements, Joey McCarey, Div. 958, and Maddie Laffey, Div. 050; Allen, the driver coach aiding them; the head programmer, Alexa Lagunas, Div. 951; and the human player involved in the match, Jacqueline Patino, Div. 986.

“I strategize with the other teams in our alliance, fill in the rest of our team, and then just tell our drivers what to do, keep the time in mind, because the matches are really quick,” Allen said.

 According to Allen, one of Lane’s alliance’s key strategies was playing defense by stopping the other robots from scoring at their switch. So repairing their robot after every match became a factor for the team as it took “some pretty big hits on defense,” Allen said.

The team consists of subteams that are responsible for different aspects of the robot. Coach Durham, who has been with the program since its beginning, says that the team is very student-run.

“Every year the competition changes, so when they find out what the competition is, they design the robot, they program it, they manufacture their own parts, they design their own parts,” Durham said. “Really, the coaches are just there to remind of timeline, provide and advice occasionally, but for the most part, it is 100 percent on the students.”

As programmers, Lagunas and the rest of her subteam are in charge of  controlling the movements of the robot from the code they write from their computer.   

On the robot’s motor is an encoder that gives the value of the robot’s position and using the code, the programmer is able to make it go to a certain point, Lagunas said.

Patino is also part of the intake team for the robot, which is responsible for grabbing the cube and holding it in place, while still allowing the robot to move around.

“There’s so many different subteams working on their part,” Patino said. “Everyone has to make sure that the pieces fit together and they have enough space for their part.”

This became a valuable opportunity for the team to learn from all the other teams they interacted with in Peoria, after winning the competition.

“There’s some little fixes we have to make, and different systems we’re going to have to change moving forward,” Allen said. “The other teams in our alliance were super nice, they taught us a lot, they helped us fix our robot. Any tools or anything we needed, they lent to us.”

The team now faces another opportunity to work with their robot as they have another regional competition, like the one in Peoria, located at UIC taking place the weekend after spring break. The real competition they are practicing for is the World Championship located in Detroit taking place Wednesday, April 25 to Saturday, April 28.

The Championship is their shot to outdo their previous success in earlier seasons, as well as a chance to interact with teams recognized globally. There will be teams from Canada and Western Europe, Allen said.

“There’s no pressure because we already advanced,” Allen said. “We’re going to make a lot of fixes on our robot. We’re going to test new things. We’re still going to play competitive there and try to win again.”