Intense, challenging, frustrating, exhilarating: all words which aptly describe the interesting sport of high school robotics. The deafening roar as hundreds of students and spectators cheer for teams locked in serious competition rivals that of any other sporting event.
FIRST Robotics describes its program like this: “Under strict rules, limited resources and an intense six-week time limit, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors.”
It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.
At Kenyon-Wanamingo High School, industrial technology teacher Doug Thompson coaches the school robotic team, Bots in Shining Armour #3848. With assistance from a group of mentors that this year includes Paul Clauson, Eddie Weyandt, Jessee Blauer, Joe Gould and a number of young alumni, he’s led the program for eight years.
The team’s preparation, design, and in-the-moment adjustments were put to the test in Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota during the FIRST Robotics competition, March 29-31.
The 2018 theme of FIRST Power Up reflects a video arcade game and a goal of trying to beat The Boss and escape.
Each of the 54 teams played in multiple qualifying rounds. Assigned to different three-team alliances for each round, they worked together to compete against an opposing alliance.
Teams and alliances gained points by using their robots to collect big yellow power cubes and deposit them in certain places at the right time. Deposit enough cubes and they could earn double points. Climbing the scale at the end of the round garnered multiple points.
Each team tracks scores and knows their ranking after each round of competition. In between rounds, they make adjustments and talk strategy with the next round’s alliance teams.
At the end of of the weekend, Bots in Shining Armour ranked 25th out of 54 teams. They finished with a 6-4 record for 10 events.
“We felt good about our performance for the weekend,” said Thompson.
Engineering gets real
In the #3848 home base following the first round on Friday morning, technician and safety captain Skye Blauer said the drive team started out a little fast but communicated well. Their bot’s elevator system had a bolt issue that limited its performance, so the team spent an hour fixing it.
Their alliance won the second round, and the team was in high spirits.
A sophomore with a mop of curly red hair, Skye was on the varsity team as a freshman last season as well. As technician, she helped transport the robot onto the game floor and watched the competition from ringside with her peers. She also made the knight costume worn by Sam Blastervold, which not surprisingly sports a bright red plume on top.
Her twin brother, Xander, is a team driver and programmer. He was excited because they had just figured out a feedback system (with help from another team) that would give a visual color display if their robot was ready to score at the correct goal.
“It makes it so we don’t accidentally score for the other team,” Xander explained.
That spirit of cooperation in competition is a big part of what FIRST Robotics expects from students in the program.
Other members of the drive team include: senior Jose Nunez (driver), senior Sam Blastervold (team coach), senior Marcus Rechtzigel (all around) and senior Kieran Weyandt (co-driver/pneumatics specialist).
But it takes many team members to take the project from idea to competition. Rounding out the #3848 team are: seniors Ethan Houglum, Nick Kaiser, Joe Gould and Briley Lane; juniors Cole Axelson and Cole Neuman (next year’s captain); sophomores Sam Schwaab, Alan Clouse, Aidan Boger, Charlie Severeid; freshmen Logan Thompson and Hayden Poquette.
Sam Schwaab had the added experience of being a robotics ambassador during the event, providing a one-on-one experience and tours for a FIRST Robotics VIP sponsor.
During the free time, Sam used the 3D printer to create a few objects. Some parts used on the team robot were actually made with the school’s 3D printer.
Thompson has seen students really find their stride when they join the robotics team. In fact, 2014 alumni Bryan Pliscott, Trevor Clouse and Peter Clauson, as well as 2015 alum Mason Sanders have all returned to be alumni mentors for robotics at K-W.
Senior Kieran Weyandt said robotics gave him direction and definitely steered him into his chosen career path. He will attend Alexandria Technical College this fall to study mechatronics and prepare for a career using electronics, pneumatics and hydraulics.
That’s good news to his father, Eddie Weyandt, who said Kieran showed an interest in the field right away; something that typically doesn’t happen for him.
“At the Alexandria school they had the same things Kieran worked with in robotics. It was a great fit,” Weyandt said.