Heading into its regional competition this past weekend, the Redwood Valley robotics team, also known as Wingnuts 4741, had a goal.

It wanted to advance.

Since it started in 2013, the local team has competed at the regional level, and while making progress each year the team had never been selected to take part in the final round of competition.

That all changed this year.

After admittedly not finishing the preliminary rounds all that well, members of Wingnuts 4741 did not automatically qualify to compete. So, it had to wait and see if another of the qualifying teams would select it as part of its alliance.

“We were selected to be part of the fourth alliance,” said Zach Josephson.

Josephson, Deon Estebo and Logan Prouty, all RVHS juniors, talked about the competition March 13.

The Wingnuts were selected to compete with an alliance made up of a team from KMS and one from Brookfield, Wis. 

That trio competed against the fifth alliance in the quarterfinals. Each match is a best of three contest, and the fourth alliance won its quarterfinal match and moved on to the semifinals.

There it faced the alliance that would end up winning the competition.

The Lake Superior Regional contest actually started the previous Wednesday (March 7) when the team loaded up their robot and headed north to Duluth. After arriving, the Wingnuts unloaded their robot and got ready for day one.

“The first day is a work day,” said Estebo, adding the team has the chance to make any upgrades or changes to their robot during that day and also is given an opportunity to do some practice matches.

The competition started Friday, March 9, and at the end of competition the Wingnuts had a record of two wins and five losses.

The following day the team won a match and lost one.

Throughout the competition teams face off in three-on-three matches. The teams are put together completely at random.

“It’s the luck of the draw,” said Estebo.

While the Wingnuts felt their robot did what the team wanted it to, the reality is there were times when it teamed up with others whose performances were less than stellar.

During the matches, Josephson served as the driver of the robot, with Estebo and Prouty working in the pit. Estebo also served as the drive coach, and Prouty took on the role of human player.

Prouty explained that the human player is the team member who can actually interact with the robot during matches to assist with point scoring.

Estebo also helped to coordinate the scouting that went on during the competition. Other members of the Wingnuts would watch matches to learn how the rest of the teams were performing, and that information was used by the team as it continued in play.

Estebo said the information it had gathered, as well as the relationships it had developed during the competition were likely part of the reason why the team was selected as part of an alliance.

Of course, the Wingnuts also felt they had a pretty good robot, too.

Each match is two-and-a-half minutes long, Josephson explained, adding the first part is completely autonomous based on what the team’s programmers developed for the robot to perform.

After that 15 second portion, the rest was drive time with the team scoring points by performing tasks, including lifting and stacking cubes at different levels.

For Josephson, Estebo and Prouty, the chance to be part of the local robotics team is about the challenge of building a robot to compete and solving problems along the way.

“I enjoy building and learning by trial and error,” said Prouty.

For Estebo it is about developing those skills like problem solving that he knows will help him in the future.

All three agreed while there is fun in the competition, the regional event is about working together not only as a team but also with other teams and sometimes offering those other groups advice or information they can use to improve.

Now that the local team has tasted success at the regional level, the goal for Josephson, Estebo and Prouty, who all plan to return next year, is to take their robot to the next level and see even greater success – perhaps even being part of the winning alliance.

The Wingnuts expressed their appreciation to all of the mentors and sponsors who helped them during the build process and at the competition.

The ideas are already brewing for 2019.