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Local robots set sights on Duluth meet

The Pine River-Backus Backwoods Engineers and the Pequot Lakes Patriotics tested the mettle of their robots Feb. 18 at the annual Week Zero event in Nevis and discovered both weaknesses and strengths.

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The Pine River-Backus Backwoods Engineers and the Pequot Lakes Patriotics tested the mettle of their robots Feb. 18 at the annual Week Zero event in Nevis and discovered both weaknesses and strengths. The event, where several northern Minnesota FIRST robotics teams gathered to practice the tasks they will face at their first competition March 2-4 in Duluth, introduced teams to Steam Works, this year's challenge. PineandLakes.com Illustration

The Pine River-Backus Backwoods Engineers and the Pequot Lakes Patriotics tested the mettle of their robots Feb. 18 at the annual Week Zero event in Nevis and discovered both weaknesses and strengths.

The event, where several northern Minnesota FIRST robotics teams gathered to practice the tasks they will face at their first competition March 2-4 in Duluth, introduced teams to Steam Works, this year's challenge. Robots must prepare an "air ship" for a journey by loading fuel (whiffle balls) and gears before climbing a rope to board the air ship.

"We felt we were going to be able to deliver gears very well and deliver fuel very badly," said Pine River-Backus Coach Mike Shetka. "It turned out we were mistaken. We did quite well on delivering fuel, not so good at delivering the gears, and our rope broke several times trying to climb. That was exciting seeing our robot fall three feet."

The event helped Pequot Lakes identify weaknesses as well.

"I think we only won one of our practice matches up there, but we were able to climb every time," said team mentor Nate Novak. "We were having trouble feeding balls into our shooters, but we did fix those over the last couple days over the build time. They are working more effectively, then we can also do the gears as well, though that is sort of a last resort for us."

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Teams had two days following Week Zero events to continue construction on robots before they had to pack them away ahead of the competition in Duluth. Practice in Nevis helped both teams to see how their robots performed in the real world, which in turn should help them compete.

"It gave us what we needed to know," Shetka said. "In the past when they haven't had a Week Zero event we've learned that information on the first day of practice in Duluth, and then we've had to tear the robot apart in the pit and fix those things afterward there. We missed out on a lot of practice time to fix our robot. This was really good for us."

Practice in Nevis also helped the Patriotics recognize how their machine will perform. For one, they realized they needed agitators in the hopper where they loaded fuel to keep them from jamming; then they realized they needed to modify a bumper on their machine, or else they would have trouble loading gears.

"We knew, kind of, going into Nevis that we would need to do some work on our feeding mechanism," Novak said. "We did do fairly well with our gears. The spring the gears get put onto is much more flimsy than we thought, so if the gears aren't placed far enough back, they can fall off very easily."

Both teams will discover if their modifications worked out in the coming weekend.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is an extracurricular activity for students in grades 8-12 to design, build and compete with robots at regional competitions around the world. The organization, founded by Manchester, New Hampshire-based For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), currently consists of 7,000 teams globally.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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