In the year 2008, we met for the first time for a LEGO robotics class to learn about programming and robotics over the summer. Nearing the end of the summer, we were introduced to FIRST LEGO League, a worldwide LEGO robotics competition for 9-14 year olds. This competition involved building a robot to complete specific tasks, creating a project and presentation based on the year’s theme, and a lot of teamwork. Each year, we worked in two teams, mixing up the members every time, but the groups stayed the same. Sooner or later, however, we outgrew FIRST LEGO League, and we discovered a new competition called VEX. It was everything we loved about FIRST LEGO League, and more. We were faced with the challenges of working together as one large team, rather than two separate teams, creating a larger, more powerful robot that could compete with three other robots on the field, and a whole array of new and different projects, such as the Online Challenges.
In our first year, we did not start out well. Our robot failed to move in our first competition, and we scored a measly 3 points. That first competition was a massive learning experience for all of us, and by the end of it we approached our robot construction and coding in new ways. This became a consistent methodology for our team, where after every competition we would find our mistakes, examine how or why the mistakes happened, and then find an efficient and practical method of eliminating the issue, therefore improving our overall performance, whether it be in how our drive team worked to the robot itself. This lead to winning two Design Awards, and an Excellence Award, which qualified our team to go to the Anaheim California World Championships. While there, we met a large number of teams from places such as New Zealand, the United States, and Japan. During the competition, we won a divisional Judge’s Award and earned the loving nickname “Orange Crush” from the judges. Having also participated in the Programming and Driver Skills challenges, we went forward to take part in the Programming Skills Finals, having placed first prior to the finals. After a tense match, our team came out on top as Programming Skills Champions in the High School division. Work on two of the Online Challenges was also underway throughout the competition. We created a promotional video, and a game animation video, submitting both challenges. Both of our submissions placed, winning 2nd place for the animation challenge, and 3rd place for the promotional video challenge.
For our second year, we had a foot forward and were ready to go for our next competition: Sack Attack. We continued with our methodology of constant revision and improvement, which paid off with a very successful season, where we qualified for the World Championships once again. Our second year at the VEX World Championships was as amazing as the first, even more so thanks to the growth of our knowledge and experience of what to expect at a competition. Our scouts were out scrutinizing our opponents’ and allies’ every move, and our drivers were strategizing and tuning the robot tirelessly. Through many matches, stress, excitement, and all the tension that goes with it, we managed to make it to the divisional eliminations, a team best. Pushing ourselves even further, we managed to make it all the way to the divisional semifinals before we were finally defeated in a close tie-breaker match. Sitting through the closing ceremonies, after having won the Programming Skills Champions Award, our team sat and waited in anticipation, eager to find out who the next Excellence winner was for this year…
It was us.
Our third year marked a major shift for the membership of the team. Two of our original members, Jacob and Pranali left the team to pursue post-secondary, while we gained former FLL members Kalli, Basil, and Devon. Learning from our previous year, we put much more work into developing consistent methods of scouting and determining strategy, which was helped in part by using Blackberry Playbooks and a custom app. Our shift in focus paid off, and we started off the season extremely strong, managing to win every tournament champions award in our next four Ontario tournaments, including provincials. We entered the World competition for the third time in a row with high hopes and left with the divisional build award and the Inspire Award.
The fourth year as a team was the last one with any of our original members, so we intended to make the most of it. This year, Amanda and Sam left for post-secondary. We also brought on two people, Liam Maloney, and Prisha. This year had a very promising start for us, and we brought home quite a few trophies from each tournament. Provincials went amazingly, we got Excellence, Tournament Champions and both Skills Awards. This game was a huge programming based game, and we performed amazingly because of that. At Worlds, we ranked second overall in our section, but only got to semifinals in the end. We also came back home empty-handed trophy-wise, but with how far we’d gotten and how much we’d done, this was a year to be proud of.
Our fifth year was our first year without any of the original members on our team. This year we brought on three new teammates: Kieran, Justin, and Liam McLeod. Eddie, Ella, Chris, and Anthony graduated to post-secondary. This year was a tough year for us. Though we started out optimistic, that slowly changed as the season went on. We were struggling to even build a robot, not to mention compete properly. We had a really rough run, but with many late nights, we built a semi-decent robot eventually. We did make it to the worlds, but this competition was almost a repeat of our first year. For the people on our team continuing on next year however, this was a huge motivating factor for next year.
The sixth year was a worrying year at start. We lost half of our team who went on to postsecondary, and next year, we would lose the other half. We had to bring on a lot of people, and make sure they could carry the team in the next years. From FLL, we brought Tommy, Qaiz, Zorawar, Aditi, Edward, Alice, Nick R, Aarish and Anjalee. From the VEX IQ team, we brought Nathaniel, Zain, and Samarth, we also brought Nick M from 472B, whose team was disbanding and he wanted to continue with VEX for another two years. This year we lost Basil, Devon, Prisha, Jeremy, Liam Maloney, and Liam McLeod. Even though we lost so many people, we brought on double the amount. With so many people on the team, we decided that for the first time, the E-Bots PiLons would have two teams. There were many concerns about the organization, like how we would split the teams, would we share documentation, were we going to be two completely separate teams or would we cooperate in designing each other’s’ robots, etc. Our main goal this year was to get the team organized and to make sure we could teach all the new members enough to be able to compete next year. For the first time, our coach, John, taught the new members separate lessons outside of meetings to make sure they understand VEX rules, parts, and so on. Our competitions weren’t the best we’ve had, with drivers not being experienced enough, or scouts not doing their job right. Our team was a mess. Even at provincials, we made a huge mistake in alliance selecting, and neither team made it past the first round. When worlds came around, neither of our teams made it far, and the most we won was a community award. For those of us left to carry the team on in the new season, this year was a huge learning experience.
On our seventh year, our team was left with 11 members. Some had graduated, while others figured out VEX just wasn’t for them. Our year started out as a huge success. Compared to many other teams competing in the first few months, we were way ahead and had a much better robot. This left us a lot of time to be much more organized than we’ve been before and had us focusing more on trying out new drivers, new strategists, and a new, more flexible, team. Every competition we went to leading up to worlds, we won Tournament Champions, Excellence Award, and Robot Skills Champions. The entire time, we all thought that there was no way we would do well at worlds. There would be stronger competition, we weren’t prepared enough, there were so many doubts running through all of our heads. After the first day, winning all our matches, and scouting other teams, we realized that we had a real chance. All of us went into working overtime, staying up until 4am working on the perfect autonomous routine to knock over other teams mobile goals and making ourselves unpredictable every time we set up on the field. We ended up being the only undefeated team in our division and chose the Wings Of Freedom as our 14th seed alliance. Together, we made it to the dome and were unstoppable even there. Our alliance went entirely undefeated in the dome. Winning tournament champions was amazing on its own, but the day before, winning robot skills as well? Nearly unheard of. People said it was impossible to win skills and the game… Looks like we proved everyone wrong. The PiLons won the year where there were pylons (cones) on the field! This year was a huge success. Next year, we need to make sure the world knows we weren’t just a one hit wonder.
Going into Turning point, our eighth year, we lost and gained 5 members. Again, a few left for post-secondary, and a few to focus more on their last year of high school. Our goal this year was to do as great of a job as we did last year and make sure the world knows that our team can be consistently good. This meant doing well in the robot game, robot skills, and online challenges. We started working really early on in the summer to train our new teammates and to get a head start. Unfortunately, we didn’t predict how harshly the loss of our last year graduates would affect us this year. We started off really overwhelmed and a little confused. Thankfully, our alumni came back fairly frequently to help us get through. By our 3rd regionals we had fully learned how to progress at our steady pace without as much alumni involvement, and have then made the switch from the standard 393 to V5 systems, and, currently, are prepping for worlds.