MORRIS -- In 2012, Morris Area's FIRST Robotics team, the Plaid Pillagers, came within one place of a trip to the world championships, but capped off their most successful season to date at the first Minnesota State High School League robotics tournament.
Their strategy was to keep it simple, building a robot that could compete strongly at one aspect of the game while ignoring other tasks.
This year, their sixth year of competition, the team wants to build a robot that can do it all that will help them continue their streak of improving every year.
FIRST – which stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” – was founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, an inventor, entrepreneur and advocate for science and technology. The program is designed to inspire young people to pursue interests in science and engineering.
The robotics season began on Saturday, Jan. 5 when 2,550 teams from around the world learned the details of this year's challenge, Ultimate Ascent, and received their kit of materials which includes motors, batteries, a control system, a PC, and a mix of components.
During Ultimate Ascent, teams of three robots attempt to throw as many discs as they can into a set of three goals. At the end of the match, robots can attempt to climb two pyramids made of metal piping to earn bonus points based on how high they climb, explained Team Captain Caleb Sanderson
“Last year we had a simpler strategy and it performed really well for what we planned to do, but we were kind of hindered or limited by the robot so this year we want to do everything,” said Team Captain Mickey Cotter.
For this year's game, it means designing and building a robot that can pick up frisbees from the ground, shoot the frisbees into goals using an auto-targeting system with cameras and sensors, and climb to the lowest level of the wire pyramid.
One lesson from 2012's robot, the Plaiding Mantis, that will come in useful in 2013 was a spinning wheel shooter system for launching projectiles. Although it will have to be tweaked to work with discs rather than basketballs, the two systems work on the same principles, said Sanderson.
Cotter said the team also hopes to get the robot done quickly to have time before “Lock Up Day” on Feb. 19 – the day when work on the robots has to stop before competitions begin – to test out the different systems on the robot.
Again this year, the team plans to attend two regional competitions in March, one in Duluth and another in Minneapolis.
Unlike other high school competitions, FIRST regional competitions aren't selected by location. Teams are able to sign up and attend any regional they choose, provided they can finance their trip. Each regional costs the team about $5,000, so they will continue to work on fundraising to offset costs.
Unlike previous years, the team doesn't plan to dismantle their old robot in a quest to salvage spare parts, which means they expect to spend more on materials than they have in the past, said Lily Ehrdal, electrical team leader.
Members of the marketing team have worked with staff at Superior Industries to develop a marketing strategy for their main fundraising source, LED lightbulbs, said marketing team member Darcy Aaronson.
The team also depends on money raised at their two community dinners and small donations from around the community to help fund the program, said Aaronson.
“We're really dependent on community support,” she said.