Focus on robotics puts Minnesota on science map
When Jack Sutherland was a sophomore at Duluth Denfeld High School, he joined the Duluth East Daredevils' robotics team. He wasn't the only one. Four Denfeld students joined the team because it was the only one in the city. "I thought it was cool...
When Jack Sutherland was a sophomore at Duluth Denfeld High School, he joined the Duluth East Daredevils' robotics team.
He wasn't the only one. Four Denfeld students joined the team because it was the only one in the city.
"I thought it was cool," said Sutherland, now a Denfeld senior. "I didn't think about how big it [robotics] was and how big it would be."
Two years later, Denfeld has its own team and the Daredevils have plenty of company in the Northland. In Minnesota -- which is home to only 1.7 percent of the U.S. population -- there are 108 FIRST Robotics Competition teams, almost 10 percent of about 1,200 teams nationwide. Minnesota may be becoming a robotics nerve center, with the number of varsity robotics teams surpassing the number of varsity hockey teams. There are four teams in Duluth and one in Two Harbors.
The Daredevils are heading into their sixth year. In the 2012 season, the Denfeld Hunters and the Marshall School's Marmota Monax joined the field. Since the start of this year's competition, Ultimate Ascent, two more rookie teams have started up: Duluth Lakeview Christian Academy's Lion's Pride and Two Harbors High School's Rock Solid Robotics.
With a lot of help from the community and gracious mentors, the Rock Solid Robotics Team has a brand-new robot named Sarah, made entirely with a carbon fiber frame. It has four CIM (Controlled Induction Motor) motors, a basket for Frisbees, and a strong metal bar to hang from the bottom rung on the pyramid, the metal structure on which robots can hang from to score points.
Sarah is an unusually fast robot. It can zip easily from one side the field to the other. It is not going to be easy to shake down in the competition.
Marshall's robot, Manty, is made mostly of wood. It is designed to climb to the third rung of the pyramid.
Denfeld's robot, named Cubert, is equipped with mecanum wheels, which allow a robot to stray from side to side, crab-like, and have increased mobility. It also can shoot Frisbees with an automatic program and climb to the bottom rung of the pyramid.
The Lion's Pride robot, named Mufasa, features a conveyor belt to drop Frisbees into the lowest goal. The team from Lakeview Christian Academy had a bumpy start-up this year. Junior Kelly Lorenz, 16, is the public relations and build team member on Lion's Pride.
"I think our first year as a robotics team was a learning experience for everyone involved," Lorenz said. "Most of us had never worked on a project like this before. One of our first meetings, after we got our KoP (Kit of Parts), was devoted solely to explaining what each part was and what it should be used for. It was difficult finding a place for our team to work, and we finally ended up in a team member's garage."
Many rookie teams run into similar problems. It takes time to learn about the game, the different robot parts and how to put the parts together. Many high school students have never had exposure to robotics before they joined FIRST, and it takes a lot of learning and hard work to fully understand what FIRST is all about.
"FIRST has given me a real-life way to actually use some of the things I'm learning in math. I've learned so much from this season. I've lost a lot of sleep to our 6 a.m. practices, but it's been worth it," Lorenz said.
Sutherland agreed, saying it's changed his career choice.
"It has completely changed what I want to do with my life," he said. "I wanted to go into veterinary medicine and now I am going into mechanical engineering."
Heather Harma and Leah Abrahams are members of the Duluth East Daredevils.