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Nevis robotics team builds on success

The Nevis Robotics team is already hard at work on this year’s wooden and metallic octagonal prototype. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)

By Nick Longworth

Students at Nevis High School are building a robot in the hopes of making it to St. Louis, Mo.

Founded in 2009, the Nevis Robotics Team is an extracurricular activity recognized by the Minnesota High School League of events.

Currently the team is at work designing and building its own fully-functioning robot capable of competition. The hope is that it will garner enough victories to lead them to the state tournament in Minneapolis, or even possibly the international competition held in St. Louis, Mo.

Beginning Jan. 4, teams of at least three participants were formed all over the world, with everyone competing against each other on one global platform.

The competition hinges around a single game played by these teams all around the world. A new game is chosen every year for the competition and teams build their individual robots that will act as their ‘player’ within the game.

“Everybody in the world that has formed a team has six weeks to build a robot. We start off with an aluminum starter kit: motors, gears, and the different types of wheels we use. We use an Xbox controller to drive the robot- everything is wireless operated. We can also buy additional add-ons, but there is a restriction on the amount of money you can spend on your robot,” said Rusty Uscola, lead mentor for the Nevis Robotics team.

“This year’s game is called ‘Aerial assist.’ We compete about ten times earning points based on a variety of other things each time you play,” Uscola said.

This year’s preliminary rounds will be held in Duluth and Nevis will be competing. These preliminary rounds are scored using a point system based on criteria such as wins, defense, offense and various other factors.

Points are then tallied and a winner is ultimately declared.

The top eight scoring teams in the competition then choose two other team and robot alliances, forming a new team of three total robots that will compete at the state level competition.

The top 12 teams at the state level then have a chance to compete at the “international” competition in St. Louis, Mo.

Uscola and his team of fellow mentors see multiple benefits in the program outside of the competition itself.

“It’s like any other event that you might have,” he said. “It has the same components as any other sporting event would have, but it also has all the academic components as well. We’re looking at sports, with academics connected to it. We’re looking at a variety of different types of things that kids can learn and experience all in one program.”

“It’s not even robotics; its problem solving to me. I get a kick out of working with students and seeing the thought process and the creativity; the, ‘we have an idea, but how do we turn that into something tangible’? I find that very rewarding,” said Olaf Netteberg, a mentor for the robotics team who is also a high school shop teacher. “It has a very real world element, realizing your own strengths and weaknesses and seeing those in competitors and alliances also. What’s really neat about robotics in general is it’s a competitive arena to try and out-think your competition. It’s not fine arts and it’s not athletics; it’s unique. It’s its own niche,” Netteberg said.

Andrew Dahlby is also a mentor for the robotics team and a high school science teacher. He likes the math and science that students learn.

“From my end, it’s really trying to show kids how to start a project and obtain a goal as you proceed forward. You can’t push enough math and science on students at their age. It’s all about problem solving, which is a skill a lot of kids don’t have. Here is a problem, now how do we solve it with the resources that we have? I like being part of the creative process with students,” he said.

Uscola encourages the community to not only support, but back the robotics team wherever possible. The team itself relies a lot on community support, grants and donations.

“We have financial sponsors like Darchuck’s Fabrications helping us do the fabrications for our prototype. Right now we’re building wooden prototypes to test different ideas for the game. We decided to go with an octagonal frame this year; it will be the first year we’ve gone away from a rectangular frame. They build the frame for us and then we build all of the drive-train system. We build these parts and they’ll make them out of wood and metal so we can compete and play the game,” Uscola said.

Those heavily interested in engineering and robotics are not the only ones who might be able to gain something from the robotics team itself.

“We currently have about 56 kids signed up to the team, with about 20 active. Active means that you are involved in the robotics program. It doesn’t mean that you have to build a robot, but it means that you’re doing something for the team,” Uscola said.

“We have a media person who does email newsletters telling what’s planned for the future. We also have a person who is in charge with awards and grant writing. You have to apply for awards, you don’t just get them. We have an animated video that one of our students made that we’re going to submit,” Uscola said.

Team mentors can readily see the progress built over the half decade long tenure of the robotics team. They all like their chances at this year’s competition.

“To go to internationals is my ultimate goal; it’s what I want to do before I get done doing this. At least just compete at that level to see what it’s like,” Uscola said.

Since its inaugural season in 2009, the program’s popularity has continued to grow in student participation – an indicative sign of a positive future for the program ahead.

“We continue to grow. We started with 9 kids in 2009 and right now we have 56. Every year it’s gotten bigger and bigger. I would like to see the program grow to be completely self-sufficient to a point where the kids are completely in charge of the entire program, with only us mentors being used for guidance. It has evolved to mostly that now; our kids pretty much run this program,” Uscola said.

“In general I really feel like we are working toward our goal being on of “those teams” that other teams look out for. Last year we had a fabulous year. We want to be a group with a proven history of success,” Netteberg said.

Updates on the Nevis Robotics Teams competition results can be found at Nevis’ team number is 3102.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364