The Two Harbors High School robotics team has left the state - but just for a competition.
Rock Solid Robotics headed approximately 300 miles to Grand Forks, N.D., for the Great Northern Regional FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics event March 13-16. It's the first time the team will travel more than 30 miles to a regional competition, as they usually participate in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center contest in early March. However, the team traveled to the world competition in St. Louis in 2013.
"We've had the largest (regional) competition in the world so close by, so we didn't go anywhere else," said Rock Solid team captain and THHS senior Kirstin Haveri. "But with the way spring break fell during the competition this year, our team would have been smaller than usual due to people on vacations. So we'll get this fun bonding experience instead."
Rock Solid Robotics will compete with and against 54 teams at the Great Northern Regional.
Although the team's robot, this year named Artemis, has been bagged up for nearly a month due to competition rules, the team is still learning and working after school almost daily. That's because this year the team built two robots: Artemis and a practice bot nicknamed Low Rider.
"We've tried to build two in the past because it really does help, but it's a lot of work, like double the work," Haveri said. "It's also nice because you can kind of test things out on the first robot, so drill extra holes that look messy and on the second one, the nice one, it's not the rough draft anymore."
The team can make changes and adjustments to the official team robot once competition starts, so anything the team develops on Low Rider will have to be recreated.
This year's robot will focus on one particular task. This year's game is space-themed and one of the requirements is for robots to place circular panels on the sides of spaceship hatches to keep rubber balls from spilling out the sides, or "storing the ship's cargo."
Other robots will focus on ball retrieval and placement, but Haveri said the team really tries to focus in on one part of the task and do it well.
"That was the idea for our team Rock Solid Robotics, "rock solid" because we can do that one thing really well, without fail," Haveri said.
Haveri has been on the team since her freshman year. She's one of the team's main computer-aided design leads, meaning she's heavily involved in the robot's beginning stages and frame build. When she joined the team, she didn't expect to be in this position.
"I kind of didn't want to join at all," Haveri said. "I was forced to by two seniors at the time. I didn't think I'd be good at any of this stuff, but I joined and learned a lot since then."
Haveri said this season feels bittersweet as it will be her last, but she's excited to get to travel with the team once before graduating.
The team's six-week build season hasn't been without challenges. One of the biggest challenges at the outset were a couple of senior team members quit the team, which left the team scrambling to fill those roles without senior mentors.
"We've all had to learn some new things we didn't expect to have to take on," assistant team captain Logan Cox said. "We also had seniors who graduated and had important positions, so it's been a come back year with a lot of us picking up the slack."
Alex Olson, sophomore and new team member, said he's been one of those who's floated from position to position to fill in the gaps.
"I helped build the wooden field replicas, programmed and now I'm getting ready to be the driver for this competition," Olson said. "I'm a little nervous about the driving because I have to memorize the sequences for each movement."
What's the key to driving a robot?
"A little bit goes a long way, that's for sure," Olson said. "Joysticks are pretty touchy and you don't want to go cranking on those. But also at the same time, you want to be a little reckless because if you're too safe, you won't get anything done. So it's a mix between going as fast as possible but also not shattering your robot into a hundred pieces."