A new extra-curricular activity at Blue Earth Area High School is a robotics competition team.
“We received two totes full of components right after the Christmas break,” says BEA science teacher Travis Armstrong, who is the adviser for the team.
The tubs were full of components, from motors and wiring to a small computer and two very sophisticated remote control joy sticks.
But what wasn’t in the tubs of material were instructions.
“The idea is that we will construct a robot that can be entered into a competition in March,” Armstrong says. “How we do it is up to us.”
Armstrong says he has 12 to 14 students involved in the robotics team, but that six make up a dedicated core unit.
“The robot team concept was presented to us by FIRST Robotics,” Armstrong says. “There are teams at many high schools around the state.”
The BEA teacher says there is a significant investment to participate.
“The cost is $6,500 to participate and that covers the cost of all the equipment and the competition,” he says. “FIRST Robotics found a sponsor for us, J.C. Penny in Fairmont, so there has been no cost so far for the BEA district.”
He adds that Lamperts Lumber, Bevcomm and Don’s Fleet have also donated the extra material needed.
“We understood that the robot came somewhat preassembled,” Armstrong says. “Not true, it was all just parts.”
He says the plan was to hold a building session for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school.
“It quickly became apparent that was not going to be enough time,” he says. “We have been meeting on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and even on Saturday.”
Their goal was to have a running robot by the end of January.
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, that had not yet been accomplished. The team still had to attach drive chains and work out all the “bugs.”
“We had some issues with the computer communicating with the robot,” Armstrong says. “It is all pretty complicated and it wasn’t working.”
Finally, at 5 p.m., the team took the robot to the Performing Arts Center lobby and had their robot move across the floor for the first time.
Until one of the wheels fell off.
“We get one problem solved and there are always another two that crop up,” Armstrong says.
They fixed the wheel and then discovered an issue with a bearing put in backward.
The team has just two and a half more weeks to get the robot finished.
“The competition isn’t until the end of March, but we have to have the robot done before that, bagged up, tagged and sent off to the judges,” Armstrong says. “So getting it done soon is a priority.”
The BEA team will be competing in Minneapolis on March 29-31 at Marriucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus.
“This year’s competition is called “Rebound Rumble,” Armstrong says. “It is a basketball game played on a 27 foot by 54 foot court with four baskets on each end.”
Three robots will be on each team, so BEA will be with two other schools.
The basketballs are small foam balls. In the middle of the court is a 6-inch tall wall with three tilting bridges over it. The robots have to be able to scoop up balls, shoot and also cross the wall.
“Our goal is to have a functioning defensive robot,” Armstrong says. “Since this is our first year, I don’t think we can get one done that is capable of shooting baskets. But we can have one that can block shots and shove the opponents around the court.”
The next task is to build a working movable arm for the robot, the team says. That arm will assist in defense and help the robot cross the bridges.
“Points are given for baskets made, of course,” Armstrong says. “But you also get points if your robots can cooperate and help each other, and if more than one can be on a bridge at one time.”
The BEA biology and anatomy teacher says the robots team has been having some fun and also learning how to solve problems and work as a team.
“Some of these kids are not involved in any other extra curricular activities, so it is great to see them participating,” Armstrong says. “They are pretty excited about building the robot and seeing it compete.”
BEA Robot Team members Gary Gack III and Daniel Mensing