The William Kelley High School Mariner robotics team recently wrapped up their six-week building period and bagged up their robot to await competition.
The team is set to compete at the FIRST Double DECCer Regional competitions on March 8 and 9 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. More than 120 robotics teams and more than 2,000 people will converge on the DECC for competitions where the teams' robots will form three-team alliances and compete with the other team alliances to complete a series of tasks.
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics emphasizes students use of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to build and customize robots to compete in a different game each year.
This year's game is "Destination: Deep Space," where teams will attempt to carry "cargo," in the form of large rubber balls, to large circular hatches in a rocket ship or cargo ship. The alliances will work together to get as many hatch doors on the ships as possible and load the cargo.
Inside the ships, the surfaces are curved outward to make this task more difficult.
"We made up our mock-up rocket ship to practice," said junior Connor Sullivan, a field technician on the robotics team. "It seems like it'll be a pretty fun game."
This year's robot, named on the fly by senior teammate and robot driver Nic Reineccius, is "Lil' Blue." The team doesn't have a specific naming tradition - last year's bot was named "Al's Robot" and the year before was "Lazy Wheel" because it had a lazy drivetrain wheel.
Students spent several weekends working on the bot, as well as many after school sessions in the last two weeks. Reineccius says the hard work was worth it because the team managed to get the robot done with enough time to practice driving it.
"Last year they drove it for the first time on the game field, so this was better," Reineccius said. "We had about five hours of drive time to get used to how it will work and to break things, which will help because now we know what will break and can plan to fix it."
Sullivan said this year's build went smoothly.
"We've had a lot of trouble in the past, but this felt like a breeze," Sullivan said. "The only trouble that we had was the climber because the weight distribution is hard to get precise. So we're still working on that. We have to wait until competition day though."
Due to FIRST Robotics rules, the team must keep their robot in a bag after Feb. 19 and not work on it until competition day, although the teams are allowed to un-bag the bots for media purposes, though they can't drive or build on them.
The team is working on their competition strategy. As their robot is a jack-of-all-trades kind of bot, they're looking to fit in wherever they're needed.
"We are pretty good at doing whatever we need to in an alliance. If other teams are good at one specific part, we can do other things to balance them out," Reineccius said.
The Northern Lights and Lake Superior regional competitions on March 6-9 are free and open to the public. Visit mnfirst.org/duluth-regionals for more information and competition schedules.