NEW ULM – For one day, Cathedral High School is transformed into an arena dedicated to robotic engineering.
The cathedral hosted its second robotic tournament on Saturday, which is open to students in grades 7 through 12. A total of 32 robotics teams competed to build the best robot. The Cathedral Students competed for five of the teams, but the remaining 27 teams came from Mankato, Madison Lake, Ramsey, Sartell, and St. Cloud.
The competition was held in the cathedral gymnasium. Half of the gymnasium was blocked off to create two fields to hold robot matches. The rest of the gymnasium and some of the classrooms in the cathedral have been converted into bot stations where teams can perform maintenance on the bots between games. The comparison with racing car pit stations is accurate. These team stops contained much of the same tools and materials as any motor racing pit stop. Bot crews often need to make quick adjustments to the bots to get them ready in time for a match.
Every year, VEX robots create different standards and scenarios for robotics tournaments. The idea is that each team should build a bot to carry out a specific task list. The better the robot performs various tasks, the more points the team is awarded.
This year, robotics teams are tasked with building a robot capable of picking up a Frisbee and tossing it into a basket. For each basket successfully made by a bot during a match, the team is awarded five points. The bots can also score a point by turning the cylinder bars to their team’s colour. Each reel rod is worth 20 points.
Each tournament match had four teams competing. Two teams will team up in the singles match against another of two teams.
The match started with a standalone programme. This tests the team’s ability to program a bot to operate without direct control from the team. The rest of the game required team members to operate the bot with the controller.
At the end of the match, the teams were awarded bonus points based on the number of squares the individual bot touches. If the team can drive the robot well, they can easily stop it on a four square intersection. Other innovative designers have added special projectile attachments that can launch an anchor and chain covering more tiles.
The actual bot matches were only half of the tournament. The judges also rated the teams based on design criteria. Each team was required to keep a notebook recording all the work done on their robot. The judges will also interview each team to assess their communication skills and professionalism. Which teams were the best at communicating? Bots were also evaluated on overall design. Is the bot durable and reliable in the field?
Several prizes were presented at the end of the tournament for the best teams in certain categories.
The building award was given to the cathedral “Overdrive” Team. The Build award is given to the team with the strongest bot skills and best communication skills. Overdrive finished fifth in the competition, winning five out of six matches.
Overdrive team member Thomas Palmer said this year’s robotics competition was very unique. Palmer has been on the robotics team since ninth grade and believes this year’s competition had the most ingredients.
“We have to track more things this year,” he said. He said.
The team began designing and building their robot in August, and the tasks it needs to perform are much more complex. Programming a robot to throw a disc requires a lot of programming variables to be accurate.
However, Palmer was excited that the team had access to new equipment to build the robot. The team has been working with pneumatics and pistons to drive the robot’s operation.
Each team faced the same challenges. Spacing and accuracy were the biggest geometry challenges this year, said Jackson Fairchild, an 11th grader from Mankato East. Verschelde was the controller of his team’s robot and his biggest concern was getting the robot to the correct location. Programming a robot to throw a disc can be done, but getting it into the optimal throwing position is complicated; Especially when the opposing team’s bot is fighting for the same spot.
Seven judges participated in the cathedral tournament. Six of the judges worked for 3M and one worked for Mages Land. All of them were quite impressed with the student’s engineering feats.
“Student dedication is strong” said Judge Matt Cookson. “That’s what impresses me.”
Judge Jacob Ganglehoff was impressed by the students’ ingenuity. He loved how they could fix the issues and make an adjustment in no time.
Judge Josh Catanach said the students’ technical knowledge was impressive, but this match was made by a strong ability to communicate with their teammates.
Judge Matt Spoor was impressed with his ability to program these robots. The students were using an advanced programming language to build the robots.
One of the 3M referees commented that he wasn’t sure the current 3M engineers would be able to accomplish what these students were doing every day.
The high school robotics competition marks a generational shift. Even ten years ago, a high school robotics program was a rarity. The judges admitted that none of them had anything like it in their high schools. Many had to wait until college to learn the programming language that is now common in many Minnesota high schools.
This is the second time the cathedral has hosted a VEX Robotics Championship, but similar tournaments are being held all over the state of Minnesota. Between 40 and 50 robotics championships are held in the state each year.
Cathedral Robotics coach Tim Watts said that cathedral teams usually attend four or five tournaments each year. He was happy to attend the tournament.
Course results are listed on robotevents.com under VEX Robot Contests. This year’s tournament champion was named from the St. Cloud Senior Technical High School team “Tigris previously the seventh machine”. The team won all six matches and was awarded the Excellence Award.
The design award went to the Mankato East Senior High Team “8’nt my fault”.
Team Overdrive’s Cathedral won the Build award.
Full tournament results can be found at robotevents.com.
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