Weather Forecast


Nevis students will compete at state robotics competition for second year

Buster II was undergoing some fine tuning this week at the hands of engineers-in-training Josh Hass, left, and Joe Bolling. The Nevis robotics team will be heading down to the metro in April to compete. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)

The hallways are deserted. The last bell rang hours ago.

But inside room 162 a bustling team of high school students readies Buster II for the 2010 FIRST Robotics Competition.

For the second year, Nevis students will head down to the metro to compete with their For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robot.

This year, it's a game of soccer, but like none witnessed on the telly.

This soccer player on four wheels runs off a 12-volt battery, driven by a chain and gears. A cRIO is the "brains" of the mechanism.

"It works like any wireless computer," explained Rusty Uscola, Nevis teacher and one of the volunteers offering expertise. Signals are sent from a receiving box to "power up" whatever components the drivers want to operate.

The robot works on electrical and pneumatic systems, the pneumatic kicking the ball and righting itself if it tips.

"It's like a video game, but real," Uscola said. "Basically, it's a game of serious frustration," he said of modifications and head scratching. "This year, we have a clue of what's going on, but we don't know the nuances. We're taking risks, making guesses."

Josh Hass, a sophomore, admits he was stepping into uncharted territory when he joined the ranks of robotics engineering last year. But he's now learning Computer Aided Drafting software and is developing a new coding system "to tell the robot what to do, how to do it."

Matt Halik, also a sophomore, assembled the electric components, working from diagrams.

Last year's experience sent him back for more. "It's a lot of fun, a great experience," Halik said. "And FIRST opens doors to scholarships and college."

It begins with brainstorming, Uscola said. The students come up with ideas and test them.

Robots are built in six weeks from a common kit, some of the parts used from last year's android. The robot must tip the scale at under 120 pounds, excluding batteries and bumpers.

This year's game, Breakaway, has two alliances of three teams each competing on a 27-by 54-foot field with "bumps." The robots attempt to earn points by collecting soccer balls in their goals. Fifteen seconds are autonomous, the robots programmed to score. Two minutes are tele-operated, humans using "joy sticks" to score.

"FIRST teaches gracious professionalism," said Jerald Thomas, who graduated last year and returned this winter as a mentor. (He joked that he considered failing so he could remain in high school for another year of robot-ology.)

"The teams are the nicest people, super cool," he said. Last year, in need of a part, he headed over to the announcer to request a spare. "Two teams were there with the parts when I got back."

The Nevis team will be accompanying Buster II to Itasca Community College Feb. 20 for a scrimmage. The "physical" robot will be shipped to "headquarters" Feb. 23.

The team heads to the University of Minnesota's Mariucci Arena April 1 for the competition. But during interim, team members will be work on "strategy," refining the software that drives the robot.

Once down on metro turf, they will be "scouting the other robots" and conducting practice rounds before the games begin.

This year's adult contributors include George Darchuk of Darchuk Fabrication, who provided construction elements. Bud Kading lends technological expertise and Olaf Netteberg designed wood test equipment. Mark Hamborg supervises and Jodi Sandmeyer "does the paperwork." Funding is provided by 3M and other donations.

"We allow everyone in the door," Uscola said. "The more brains, the better."

The robotics team meets from after school until 6 to 11 p.m. - depending on the robotic conundrum the kids are facing.