High School Students Develop Robots for Competition
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) Marshfield High School Robotics students made their way to the Wisconsin State Championship on Saturday (Feb. 22) in Appleton.
Following a regional competition in Whitehall on Feb. 1, the two qualifying teams competed against other state teams in a game-based challenge called “Tower Takeover.” For the competition, teams use their custom-built robots to place cubes in score zones or towers on a 12×12 foot playing field, with the objective of earning the most points.
Aiden Vandre, Isaac Polacek, and Jordan Beil finished 33rd out of 48 teams. They were selected as the 2020 Wisconsin VRC State Robotics Create Award winner for their robot, dubbed “Provolone,” which demonstrated a creative engineering approach to the game challenge.
The second team consisting of Ellak Flannigan-Warren, John Iwaszczenko, Kody Weigel, Elliot Huber, and Evan Grassman placed 46th out of 48 teams, using robot “Parmesan.”
At the last regional contest on Feb. 1, the three-person team was crowned Skills Champion and qualified for the international Create U.S. Open Robotics Championship to be held April 2-4 in Iowa.
At competitions, teams are randomly assigned a partner team to work together and strategize to earn points on their journey to finals. For the final single elimination bracket, the teams with the highest rankings get to choose an alliance partner first, giving them a competitive advantage.
“The higher you’re seated, the more chance you have to choose a partner that’s strong as well,” said Shawn Trudeau, club advisor and Technology Integration Specialist. “Sometimes that comes down to someone who complements your skills. Scouting is a big part of the game, being able to go out and see what other teams are doing throughout the sectionals, knowing strengths and weakness.”
“Sometimes you get someone who can’t stack but they can get all of the towers, so we’ll focus completely on one thing or the other,” said Isaac Polacek, sophomore.
During a round, cubes of various colors are placed on the 12×12 field with the two alliances prepared to score as many points as possible. There’s a 15-second autonomous period, where the robot is programmed to move on its own. The winner of this portion earns 6 points and two additional purple cubes.
“If you win that, typically you win the match because it’s that hard to overcome that,” said Caleb Henderson, club advisor and technology instructor.
Then there’s a 1 minute, 45 second driver-controlled period where the two alliances use their robots to stack cubes in the score zone. If a cube is placed in one of the two middle towers, that increases the point value of all the cubes with the same color, but for all teams — which is why strategizing is so important.
During the brief periods between matches, a team can address any design problems. “We had our gears break one time where they were shifting and some of the teeth broke, and it’s really having to gear down and get that done before another match and trying to get ready, and hoping our alliance is understanding,” said Jordan Beil, sophomore.
The “Tower Takeover” challenge was introduced last April and remains the same for all of the robotics competitions throughout the year. In between events, the students work to improve their robots.
“I think the biggest issue with this robot when we started working on it was settling on a design for what we were going to do. We spent a lot of time prototyping with other designs,” said Aiden Vandre, sophomore.
As soon as the team fixes one problem, others arise. “It’s a never-ending system of adding and fixing, adding and fixing,” he said.
The club met once a month last summer to get started on the design. Members work continuously throughout the school year on the robots, an investment of hundreds of hours. “Both the team captains, they’ve been in here every day working on this, every single extra minute of time,” Henderson said.
Teams start out with scoring strategies, or how their robot will score points, which determines what the design will look like. Students also have to document their work.
“Each team needs to prepare an engineering notebook, and basically that notebook documents their thought process and their work to solving the solution or creating their design,” said Trudeau.
There are 12 members of the Robotics Club, which has competed for the last three years.
“This is a career and student organization that supports career and college-ready skills, and further supports the use of the Vex Robotics system in our engineering program offerings at the middle and high school level,” said Trudeau.
The majority of Robotics Club members are freshmen and sophomores who are adding on experience with each passing year. Its two female members chose not to compete due to other club commitments.
The Robotics Club is funded by a grant from the Department of Public Instruction, which covers the cost of materials, fees, and travel.