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Nevis Robotics has opportunities for all students

Launching a lob. (Submitted photo)

By amanda hass



When I first heard this word I thought of machines, gears, and wires. I thought of engineers who seem to create and run their robots with their minds. For the Nevis Robotics team, this word means a competition against other robots.

Every year there is a robotics competition in Duluth at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. It is called the Lake Superior Regionals. Each year the competition has different requirements for the robots to fulfill. This year the game was called “Ultimate Ascent.” Robots were to shoot Frisbees into goals and climb a tower to score points. There were three goals the robots could shoot into a three, two, and one point goal. At a certain time human players could throw Frisbees across the field and into the goals. Also, robots could climb a tower for points. There were three levels: the closest off the ground was 10 points, the second level was 20 points, and the top level was 30 points.

The mentors for the Nevis Robotics urged me to join the team, even though I thought there was no way I could help build a robot to accomplish those things, seeing as I have zero experience in the engineering field. Once I joined I realized there was a lot more to robotics than building a robot. There were awards to apply for, sponsors to look for, and strategies to brainstorm. I could help out in many more ways than building the robot; I would leave that to the build team.

I was lucky enough to be able to go to the competition March 7-9. The first day was practice rounds. Robots got inspected to see if any parts were illegal or if the team’s robot was too heavy. Our robot failed inspection of the climbing mechanism. Our climbing mechanism had us reaching up to the second level from the floor and pulling ourselves up. Apparently that was illegal; robots could only climb up one level at a time and we were climbing two. However, our shooting mechanism was perfect and we made weight.

All the robots were put in a place we call “the pit.” There were 51 teams and therefore 51 robots in the pit. Each team has a section in the pit for their robot and working station. If a team’s robot malfunctioned they brought it back to the pit and fixed it up quickly before their next round. The pit was filled with people.

Teams were talking with each other, transferring ideas, and franticly working on their robot if it wasn’t running correctly. As I walked around and looked at all the different robots I was amazed. The ideas and creations all these teams thought of were astounding. Some teams focused only on climbing the tower to the top, while others focused only on shooting and making as many goals as possible. Many teams tried to combine both, as we did. There were many interesting people on the teams. I saw boys and girls working together, mentors helping the students build and recreate their robot, and other teams lend a helpful hand to teams that needed it.

During competition the drive teams come out and set up their robot, get set at the driving station and await the green light. All throughout the day, music is playing in the arena to keep the energy flowing and crowd interested. An announcer comes out and announces each team and the green light is given. After the round is over, teams bring the robots back to the pits and if there was a problem, correct the issue for better results the next round. Each team communicates and comes up with an answer to the problem. Our robot’s wheels weren’t grippy enough; we were being pushed around by robots that played defense. We switched our wheels for ones that gave more traction and prepared for day two.

Friday, March 8, was qualification rounds. At around 8 o’clock in the morning, the opening ceremony began. The announcer gave the day’s agenda and introduced the teams. Then a city council member was introduced and gave us a pep talk to do our best. We watched a video the mayor prepared for us and met the Dean of Swenson Science and Engineering from the University of Minnesota.

There were 84 qualification rounds; each team competed about 10 times. During the round there is a 15-second autonomous period. The autonomous period is where the robot is programmed to do something; the drivers have to stand behind a white line and let their robot do its thing. We had our robot programmed to shoot two Frisbees into the three point goal. Each goal is double the points during this period. Then, after 15 seconds, drivers step forward and drive their robots to get Frisbees and shoot, or drive their robots to climb the tower. This is about two and a half minutes long. During the last 30 seconds, human players are allowed to try to score. In the stands, the rest of the teams are watching their own team. Cheering and yelling is the norm when one team does amazing. Some teams were huge, about 50 people strong. Mascots have dance offs and are very entertaining to watch. The drive team and the pit crew stay in the pit for most of the time to compete and take care of the robot. The rest of the team scouts to find the best teams to ally ourselves with for the finals.

On Saturday, March 9, the qualification rounds wrap up and alliances are chosen. The top eight teams get to choose their alliance members. We were the 14th pick. During the finals, teams get really focused and serious. Drive teams come together and strategize against opponent alliances. The crowd is loud and wild, full of crazy dancers when the right song comes on. When the scores are released from the last match, teams go crazy and the arena fills with cheering and screaming.

Each match in the finals is best two out of three. Many matches went to three rounds. The two alliances in the final match were actually the 7th and 8th rated alliance, a Cinderella story. The 7th rated alliance won the final match and gets to go to nationals in St. Louis. Nevis Robotics made it to the semi-finals where, in an intensely close battle, lost by a small margin. We ended up getting third place, which is a very good accomplishment that we are proud of.

This experience has been amazing and I was surprised at how much fun I had. I had no interest in robotics before this and now I am open-minded to having something like this be part of my future. I encourage all students and adults to think about helping with Nevis Robotics. It is a great opportunity to expand upon one’s experiences.