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Nevis Robotics Team is rebuilding

With high school students back to in-person learning, the district's robotics team is kicking off a new season.

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Members of this year's Techno-Tigers in Nevis are, front, from left, Mabel Majors, Dawson Cowfer, James Moen, and Simon Hudrlik. Back row: Owen DeWitt, Rayna Wood, Gabby Cairns, Reese Kline, Kael Netteberg, Eli Peterson and Nolan Simkins (Photos courtesy of Kay Netteberg)

The Nevis Techno-Tigers robotics team is doing a rebuild this year – in more ways than one.

In addition to rebuilding a robot to compete in a repeat of last year’s game, they are rebuilding their team, with three out of four members in their first year of robotics.

Reese Kline is the only senior on this year’s team. He plans to go into HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) after graduation.

“Being on the robotics team has also taught me how to work with other people and communication skills,” he said. “Last year, most of our team was made up of seniors, so we have to step up this year and come up with some things on our own. We’re going to build a whole new robot. We want to improve everything. We might have a tournament later, we might not. Who knows? But we’re still going to build a robot and have fun.”

Reese has been on the team for three years and is this year’s driver. He is also involved in the design and build teams.

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“As the driver, you’ve got to know a little bit of everything,” mentor Olaf Netteberg said. “You’ve got to know strategy and design. This year is kind of weird because we’re using last year’s rules and we got to see a lot of robots last year so we’re looking at some of the best designs in the world and figuring out how we can put our spin on that. We just started seeing students this past week. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition) is not having a season like we are used to having. Instead, they have various options for things teams can do. We have chosen to do the FIRST at Home and Game Design Challenge. Basically we are designing and building a new robot using last year's game to do tasks from that game at home and will then compete in a virtual setting with random teams that we will be grouped against from around the world.”

Gabby Cairns is a junior and the leader of the pit crew. “We call her the pit boss,” Netteberg said. She is also a member of the design team.

“We’re working on our strategy for the game and want to make the whole pit scene more efficient,” she said.

Cairns has been on the team since seventh grade. “I’ve been involved in robotics for about nine years because I have family members who are inspectors with FIRST, so I’ve gone with them to competitions,” she said. “I’ve been preparing to be on the Nevis team since I was in fifth grade.”

She said other young women should give robotics a try.

“I feel like a lot of the time girls think robotics is more of a boy thing and that they don’t fit in,” she said. “I think it’s important for them to at least give it a try and know that they are welcome.

I definitely want to take this experience into my career, go into some sort of engineering. I’ve been leaning more to the aerospace part of it, but that’s kind of a big jump.”

Rayna Wood is also a junior. “I’m the programmer,” she said. “I am learning a new programming technique, Java. It’s improving a lot of different things because with Java you can do more.”

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She said robotics is different than most sports. “In sports, you have to have the skills before you start doing that sport,” she said. “In robotics, you just join the team and do stuff right away.”

Netteberg said there are no competitions planned at this point in the season.

“There are different options you can participate in,” he said. “One of them is ‘Robotics at Home’ with different skill challenges. The plan is to match you up with 30 teams from throughout the world. You use your robot and you basically Zoom with your robot. It’s like an obstacle course with precision shooting of foam balls and using programming and sensors to find things.”

Nevis is one of 30 members in the Northern Minnesota Robotics Conference.

“We are tentatively hoping to have a COVID-safe conference event at the Sanford Center in Bemidji in April,” he said. “Like everything, it’s a goal. We hope it happens. The kids are more excited about that possibility than some of the virtual options. Everybody’s a little tired of virtual.”

The FIRST website (firstinspires.org) provides information about the various robotics challenges that will be happening this year.

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Reese Kline, the team's only senior, has been working on helping design a new robot for this year's virtual competition. Students are also hoping an in-person conference competition will be possible late this spring.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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