The almost-50-person team is as well-oiled (or tuned, or programmed, or whatever you want to call it) as the machine they drive in competition. St. Anthony High School’s RoboHuskie robotics team is going to nationals at the end of April.
The robotics team came in second at their last regional tournament, but were eligible to advance on one of three wild cards. So now trip fundraising (to St. Louis, MO) has begun in earnest, with each of 20 to 25 students putting in $350 of their own, and approximately $7,000 left to raise.
They’re part of the FIRST Robotics Competition, a worldwide community of robotics teams. Competitions involve an “autonomous” portion where the robot performs as programmed for 30 seconds, and a 2.5 minute portion performing tasks with a driver (this year it’s Adam Beltowsky with the joystick). At the end, they have 30 seconds to climb the robot up a rope.
Builder Anders Dahl told the Northeaster April 12 how they are preparing to make it easier for the robot to grab onto the rope, and how they are building the crate to ship the robot safely to the competition.
Programmer Conner Taylor talked about the frustrations of building the computer code while building the machine. “It’s a lot of trial and error, and Googling for error codes that it turns out no one’s ever seen before.” They talked about modifications introduced this year that helped move sideways and diagonally in addition to backward and forward.
To provide the programming, long Ethernet cords come in handy. During competitions, they use an assigned wireless wi-fi. Sometimes competition gets derailed if someone in the stands has a hot spot (prohibited, but hard to enforce). If there’s wi-fi interference, matches have to be done over.
The robotics season starts the first weekend in January, with six weeks to build and one trial competition before “bag” day. Each time they compete, their robot goes into a plastic bag tied off with an official tag. They can work on solving problems from their notes, and can assemble parts to bring, but they can’t actually make or test their changes until the next meet. They can make modifications while at the meets, though they didn’t have much to do by the end of this year, things worked so well.
RoboHuskie competes in at least two regional competitions of their choice, one local and one road trip. Audrey Nehring and others on the spirit team said they love going to Duluth where there’s all sorts of stuff to do within walking distance. This year they went to Iowa and found it lacking – on a college campus with limited food options not friendly to those with food allergies, and anything else more than two miles away.
The local tournament at Mariucci Arena on the U of M campus yielded this result: (Quoting the Robo Huskie Facebook page) “Thank you to our teammates, the Alliance captain #Team5464 (Cambridge Isanti Blue Jackets) as well #Team2491 (No Mythic). (Two of the three teams on the alliance that defeated us had previously qualified. Due to rules regarding teams qualifying more than once along with wildcard rules, each team in our alliance were passed a ticket to nationals.)”
The spirit team is the group in charge of fundraising for and then preparing the swag – bandanas and buttons available for fans to take from their pit, a 10 by 10-foot pop-up tent with the cover off, where they can hang sponsor banners. The red bandanas sport a huskie dog graphic, the team number 2574, and bot<3 (bot love) sprayed in black and then silver for a drop-shadow effect.
They’d ironed 365 bandanas so far toward the 600 they expect to give out at nationals, and had handed out 400 at Mariucci. They’ll set a goal of making, for example, 100 per day when they get together in the physics classroom after school where it all started. Gaby Arias, the mascot described by her teammates as the most dedicated ever, is part of this group.
The media team builds the website and handles their facebook page. They take photos and videos at competitions and are in charge of relationships with businesses that sponsor the team, and the GoFundMe page where donations can be made toward the nationals.
They’re particularly jazzed about a scouting program they devised to help RoboHuskie evaluate other teams to partner with. Six scouts with Amazon Fire tablets watch other teams during competitions and instantly record their characteristics.
Advisor Jeanne Hugill is pleased with the depth of the current team, saying 2017 was “one of few years we didn’t have to rebuild.” As many are now seniors, next year will be a rebuilding year for the people as well as the machine – at the end of a year the robot is torn apart and the pieces put back in bins.
The team has had several adult mentors in different roles, for example currently, engineers Ray Muno and Eric Bollenson (they work at the U of M and Cummins) and at one time, Hugill’s husband Ken. She is a teaching assistant at the middle school and “hangs with these guys and the marching band.” Will Hagen, in charge of the media team, calls her “the glue.”
In all, there are many opportunities for the younger high-schoolers to help with as many areas of the team as they like, and the older ones are encouraged to mentor them. Hugill said if a freshman gets a chance to really engage they will have the confidence to take over, earlier, and that leads to a stronger team.
The team will go to the national competition whether or not funds are in hand, driving part way on April 25 and starting competition in the afternoon of April 26 for four days. They’ve planned one entertainment outing, at City Museum. When they get back they’ll continue fundraising if needed…and of course, funds are always needed for the ongoing program with about a $20,000 annual budget underwritten almost half, by Medtronic.
The website, robohuskie.com has a link to the GoFundMe page.
Below: A RoboHuskie t-shirt, the medal and plaque won at recent tournaments, and some of the spirit team at a recent meeting; Gaby Arias the mascot at left, and Audrey Nehring at right. The total team count is close to 50 participants. For photos of robotics in action, go to robohuskie.com. (Photos by Margo Ashmore)