Sitting in their classroom this past Monday morning, students in the Redwood Valley High School advanced robotics class, taught by Todd Steve, talked about the finishing touches they needed to make on the robot they have been working on for the past several weeks.

The students had just a couple of days left to work on the robot in class before heading to Duluth to compete in the Lake Superior Regional competition, which is being held March 6-7.

The students actually left for the competition earlier this week, and they spent their day March 5 practicing for the competition and making any last minute tweaks in advance of the start of competition Friday morning (March 6).

The Redwood Valley robotics team, known as the Wingnuts 4741, is sending 19 students to the regional event, and those students will be doing everything from being part of the team that will operate the robot during competition to those who scout out other teams and spend time marketing the Wingnuts to others.

“This build season went very well. We lost a strong group of seniors last year who took a leadership role on the team, so we knew we would have some inexperienced students leading the build team,” said Steve. “There have been some growing pains along the way, but the students have learned from their mistakes and have completed a functional and competitive product.” 

The contest this year is FIRST® Infinite Recharge and has a Star Wars theme. The challenge was presented to teams in January. In Infinite Recharge, “two alliances work to protect FIRST City from approaching asteroids caused by a distant space skirmish. Each alliance, races to collect and score power cells (balls) in order to energize their shield generator for maximum protection. To activate stages of the shield generator, droids manipulate their control panels after scoring a specific number of power cells. Near the end of the match, droids race to their rendezvous point to get their shield generator operational in order to protect the city.”

The robots are challenged to pick up the balls and drop them into goals on different levels.

According to Pari Bailey, who is in her third year of the robotics program at Redwood Valley, the team opted to build a robot that would utilize the low goal and would also include a lift to climb to reach the rendezvous point.

Bailey is part of what she called an “all-rookie drive team” adding she and the others are learning a lot this season.

Bailey, as well as other team members, such as Kenzie Lydick, Jaden Rainey and Ben Whited all enrolled in the high-school advanced robotics class as a way to have more time to work on the robot during the build portion of the season.

Lydick, a senior, has been part of the robotics team for four years, and, in addition to serving as the safety captain, she joined the build team taking on a much bigger role in that effort.

For Lydick, the regional competition has been a great experience, not only as she has learned more about robotics but also as she met knew people who have a similar interest.

Jaden Rainey, who has been part of the robotics team for two years, said he really enjoys the challenge robotics presents. This year he has taken on a more significant role as part of the programming team. That, he said, means he is involved with making the robot “do what it does.”

Ben Whited, in his third year as part of the Wingnuts, said he was encouraged to get involved by an older brother.

Whited is also a member of the build team this season. Whited said there have been ups and downs during the build season, but as a team he said they worked together to find solutions to those challenges.

While team members all said their goal at the regional contest is to learn as much as they can, one can also see they all have a goal to be as competitive as is possible.

Steve expressed thanks on behalf of the team for the mentors from Daktronics and the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative who give of their time to offer guidance to the team.

One can watch the team compete at thebluealliance.com.