FIRST Robotics Competition Season Kicks Off

Game reveal held at UMD with teams from across the Northland.

DULUTH, Minn.- The robotics season has officially begun, as Saturday high school robotics teams from across the Northland got a first look at their game for this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Marshall Performing Arts Center Auditorium packed with anxious high school engineers waiting to see how they’ll have to design their robots this year.

“Getting that experience and being around other teams when it happens makes it even more exciting,” said Alex Risdal, a Sophomore in her second year on the Duluth East Daredevils team. “Like when you countdown and stuff like that to the game reveal, that’s pretty exciting, gets everyone pretty hyped up for the game.”

At last the wait is over, and the course is revealed nationwide via livestream, to “ooh’s” and “aah’s” from the audience at UMD.

“It’s a pretty interesting looking game,” Risdal said. “It kinda looks like American Ninja Warrior which should be fun with a robot.”

“For the past two years the games have mostly consisted of picking up pieces, placing them in a set, like, area to score points,” said Haakon Pihlaja, a Junior in his third year as a Daredevil. “But this year we’re expected to shoot these balls.”

This year the robots must collect power cells (or foam balls) and put them into the shield generator to earn points.

After scoring a certain number, they must activate the “shield generators” by spinning a color wheel and finally, climb and hang onto a suspended lever.

“This is gonna be fun to plan for,” Risdal said. “I’m the strategy captain so we do a lot of the planning in my department for the robot and I think it’s going to be fun to think up ideas for this year and how we’re going to do all these different things.”

The game this year is presented by Star Wars, taking players to that Universe.

“It’s really cool,” said Madeline Bjonskaas, Sophomore and Junior Captain at Duluth East. “I think that’s also gonna get, a lot more people are gonna learn a lot more about FIRST because of that.”

After learning of the game, teams grabbed their kit of parts and started strategizing.

Some students have never even held a wrench before joining FIRST, like Mariner Robotics alumni Gunnar Frahm, one of the speakers at the kickoff event.

“I actually grew up in a single mother, parent household,” Frahm said, “And without a father figure, right? So I myself didn’t learn from her what the difference between like a wrench or a hammer was, right?”

“So FIRST definitely really instilled those skills and how to use tools, learn what they are.”

Teams have only eight weeks to build their robots from scratch, before the first competition of the season.

“In the past we’ve only had like six weeks which is kind of an even shorter amount of times and so this year we’re going to try to get the robot done within about five weeks to make sure we have like drivers practice,” said Risdal.

Coaches with Duluth East Daredevils said their teams should finish programming and start building the physical robot by the end of January before one of the biggest regional competition, the Double DECC’er in March.

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