Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Bethany Helwig
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Local robotics teams head to Destination: Deep Space


March 14, 2019

Bethany Helwig

A spectator's view of the robotics competition floor in the DECC arena where 123 teams came to compete in the Lake Superior Regional and Northern Lights Regional.

Thunderous cheers and chants filled the DECC arena on Friday and Saturday last week for the FIRST Robotics Competition. Two regional tournaments were played simultaneously on either side of the arena separated by a massive curtain-the Northern Lights Regional and Lake Superior Regional. Local teams from Barnum, Moose Lake, Cloquet, Carlton, and Esko showed off their skills during the full day events. While a majority of the teams hailed from Minnesota, teams also came from North Dakota, Iowa, Hawaii, and one even all the way from Sweden.

The excitement was palpable and both the teams and supporters in the crowd dressed for the occasion. While many teams went with matching t-shirts, some got a bit more creative, from white lab coats, cowboy hats, and steampunk attire, to gold spandex. Mascots from various teams also attended in full costumes to cheer on the competitors as well as dance during the down time between rounds.

Mayor Emily Larson of Duluth gave the opening speech after the rules of the regionals were announced and a safety video (animated and voiced by one of the teams) was shown.

The theme for this year's competition was Destination: Deep Space. The field was split in two, one side for the red alliance and the opposite for the blue alliance, both composed of three teams. The challenge was to secure "hatch panels" onto a rocket and cargo ship and proceed to fill them with "cargo" (which in this case were big orange balls) with a time limit of 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Each teams' robot would start on their choice of three different platforms raised at varying levels to test how the robots could handle rough terrain.

At the onset of each match, screens would lower during the "sandstorm" so teams could not see the field for 15 seconds. Robots could only move if they were pre-programmed to run autonomously or if operated by their human drivers via video feed from their robot. Once the sandstorm lifted, it was a race to see who could put up the most hatch panels on their rockets and cargo ships and fill them with cargo. Teams were also able to run defense on the opposing alliance to keep them from scoring.

At the end of a match, robots needed to return to their habitat (the raised platforms). Extra points were awarded for those that could climb to the second or third levels. Keep in mind there are no ramps for these levels, which is an obstacle the teams had to solve.

The ingenuity displayed at the regionals was extraordinary. No two robots were alike. Designed completely by the groups of students, each had their own way to deal with the challenge before them. Some used basket-like contraptions to pick up cargo while others implemented three pronged hands. For controlling the robots, many teams used joysticks but some preferred the familiar feel of an Xbox controller.

Teamwork was another big component of the competition. By putting the teams on alliances, it made them work together in order for their alliance to win the match. At times, a robot would get stuck coming off a platform at the habitat or would accidently hang up on some cargo rolling around. Alliance members would come to their rescue and nudge them off obstacles to get them back into play. Several robots were even designed to fold out into ramps at the end so a teammate could drive up them to reach the highest platform.

"Teams are helping each other out all the time," said Evan Lembke, the Technology Coordinator at Barnum Public Schools. "Everybody is positive and excited for each other. The energy in the area during the finals is on or above the level of a basketball state championship."

The Barnum Bombatrons consists of 25 students, grades 7-12, workers together to design, build, test, and promote the robot and team. They are divided into four departments: build, programming, media, and business/strategy. Each student choses the department that they are interested in.

Maintaining and supporting these teams is not easy, which is why promotion is such an important part to keep the program going. Sponsors make it possible to pay for the expenses that come with building a robot.

The Barnum Bombatrons ranked 24th out of 63 in the Lake Superior Regional at the end of the qualification matches, and were selected to be on the alliance for the finals but lost to the number two seed alliance.

Also in the Lake Superior Regional: Cloquet RipSaw Robotics ranked 32nd and won the Rookie All Star Award; Carlton Doomsday Dogs ranked 27th; and Esko SubZero Robotics ranked 46th but went on to be one of the regional winners.

Moose Lake's Circuit Breakers ranked 54th out of 60 in the Northern Lights Regional.


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