Redwood Area High School Winguts give robotics demonstration for parents

Christopher Schmitz

On Sunday, March 14, the Wingnuts (RAHS’ robotics team) gave a demonstration for parents of involved students. Coaches Todd Steve and Mark Buick introduced the students who had worked hard this year on a robot, even in the absence of the annual contest hosted by the FIRST Robotics Competition that is usually at the DECC in Duluth.

Top: Seniors enjoying their final year of high school robotics competition are, from left: Aneas Pacheco, Ben Whited, Jaydon Estebo and Perry Bailey. Bottom: Wingnuts team members showed how their robot can shoot baskets, during their demonstration for parents on March 14.

“Last year the team finished fifth out of sixty-three teams,” Steve said of the previous year’s competition—which was cut short due to COVID-19—that was the best the team had performed to date. Steve discussed the ranking system and the way the competition scores competitors through the team-based challenges—which pits trios of robots, each piloted remotely by high school students, against each other. 

“We could have been ranked even higher than we finished at last year, based on what we built this year,” said Steve.

The Wingnuts would have qualified for the state tournament in 2020, had COVID-19 not canceled it. Despite their amazing performance last year, there were things they wished they could have done but opted not to include on their robot last year for many different reasons. 

This year, the team decided to build systems that could do all of those things, including shooting balls at targets with a computer guided “limelight,” a bright green light that helps aim via reflective technologies. They also worked on coding more autonomous operations which offer an additional window for scoring opportunities at FIRST events before a robot’s drivers are allowed to take control.

Teams were given a number of options for 2021 which included not competing at all, which the Wingnuts did not see as an option. There were two options which involved other skills than robotics-based challenges and the team felt it did not align with their purpose. The final option was to compete in a series of skills challenges via a live call with a FIRST judge and presenting the results of their robot’s abilities engaging in three of five possible categories. That allowed the team to focus on their strengths and be as competitive as possible. Steve feels their resulting scores will be comparatively high.

This year’s team has four seniors on it and a total of 23 students. Steve said, “We couldn't have done this without the help of our volunteer mentors, Chad Johnson, Danielle Raden, and Rick Raden, all employees of Daktronics and Shawn Manee of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. These four have helped the students tremendously in the technical side of the build, from programming, to electrical work, to metal fabrication. The students learned a great deal from them and the end product is a result of the technical skills the students learned.”

“I’m really proud of the team sticking with it,” Steve said, noting that not all teams have had the same fortune due to their school’s restrictions and other factors. “Willmar’s team had only five students and many schools had no team at all this year, because of COVID. It shows how important this team is to our local kids.”

While the competition is greatly changed for 2021, the team did not have the same chance to show off their robot to parents and community fans who attended live (and via streamed video) meets last year. However, they were able to set up both last year’s robot and their current project to do a live demonstration. It included steering the robots around the high school gymnasium and even having the robot shoot free-throws, in addition to score on the makeshift scoring platforms common of FIRST events.

The 2021 challenges will be submitted to FIRST by the first week of April. “We will be ranked in a randomly selected group with teams from around the world,” said Steve. The results from this year’s competition should be available later in April.