Huskies best 50 teams at regional tournament
Like technical workers at an engineering firm, they experienced teamwork, compromise, frustration and excitement. And they are now in a top position to participate in the Minnesota State Tournament for Robotics.
Six freshmen and three sophomores from North Lakes Academy returned from the FIRST Robotics Competition, held March 8-10 in Duluth, with a sense of accomplishment.
Last year North Lakes Academy partnered with Forest Lake High School to field a team. This year they decided to go it alone.
They applied for a rookie grant, which involved filling out surveys and answering essay questions. The result, $5,000 from NASA, covered the entrance fee and a kit of parts to start assembling a robot.
The assignment was to design a brand and then build and program a robot that could move and work with a 2-foot exercise ball against a field of competitors.
In the six weeks that followed, the team assigned tasks, built the robot and took it to the regional competition in Duluth, where they advanced to the playoffs. In the elimination rounds, starting as the sixth seed, they took down the third seed by one point to advance to the semifinals.
The North Lakes Academy team came home with the seventh-best overall record of the 57 teams competing in Duluth. Three other regional competitions were held later in March, and the state winner will be determined at Williams Arena in Minneapolis on Saturday, May 17.
Choices the team made during the process affected the outcome. Should they try to create a robot that can throw a ball, or is that too big a job for six weeks?
To score points, the robots successfully aimed the ball through high or low goals, or bounced the ball to another robot in an assist.
“Some teams tried to throw or catch the ball. Ours pushed it,” team captain Hannah Quarnstrom said. One competing robot used a hammer motion to propel the ball forward, she added.
Andrew Warren, a ninth-grader who worked on programming and wiring and was one of the drivers, said an attempt to make the robot catch the ball was not successful. In the end, choosing to limit the robot to a simple pushing motion turned out to be wise.
Another decision was to mount the four wheels on two independent axles. But instead of front and rear axles, the two left wheels and the two right wheels move together as separate units.
“We call it ‘The Tank,’” Warren said.
Points were used to break ties in scoring. The North Lakes Academy team would have finished higher if it had scored more points, but being a defensive robot (with no throwing ability) limited its ability to score.
Its tank-like nature did give it an advantage over some other robots.
“I almost tipped one over,” Hunt said.
From three software programs available, the programmers decided on Labview by National Instruments, a development environment used to create test, measurement and control applications.
Instead of learning C++ or JAVA, sophomore Tyler Patten and freshmen Andrew Hunt, Eli Knutson and Warren opted for Labview because they were already familiar with it.
“We didn’t have to start from scratch,” Patten said.
Another important decision occurred at the regional competition, where three teams joined forces to combat a group of three other teams.
At first, the alliances were randomly assigned. But later, the North Lakes Academy team was able to choose its battle partners, which made a big difference in the outcome.
“Our alliance was the best,” Hunt said. “We were really lucky in our strategy”
Ups and downs
The North Lakes Academy experienced several highs in Duluth. At the end of Day 2, the robot was in eighth place. At one point on Day 3, it was in first place.
The team also avoided serious lows. Team scores reached as high as 200 points, yet some scored 0. A few robots were disabled.
The North Lakes Academy team is coached by Paul Good, who teaches physics, CIS physics and ninth-grade physical science, plus astronomy and circuits.
Team captain Quarnstrom is studying biology and has yet to take chemistry and physics. She’s familiar with motors, though, as her father is a car mechanic, and together they are fixing up a 1968 Firebird for her to drive.
Having worked on a car did not completely remove any stress from working on the robot.
The three days in Duluth started with a check-in to make sure each machine was built to specifications. The total weight, for example, could not exceed 150 pounds.
A problem arose when the North Lakes Academy robot was found to have the wrong bumper height, at 2.75 inches instead of the regulation 3 inches. But the team thought of a way to fix the problem.
“We moved the brackets down,” Good said.
This solution seemed easy compared to last year, when the combined Forest Lake/North Lakes Academy team found out their robot’s perimeter was too large and had to recut it.
“I experienced much stress” during the competition, Quarnstrom said.
The other team members agreed, adding that she shared the stress with others.
“She’s very giving,” they said.