It’s been a long six weeks for the members of Perham’s “Brobotix” robotics team.
Six weeks is all the time they had to design, build, program and test a robot which will compete in a game that resembles soccer with a hint of basketball.
On top of the short deadline, in the team’s five-year history, they have already had three coaches. This year, Josh Mycke has taken the helm and is directing the team with a unique strategy.
Mycke brought together a group of professionals from around the area as mentors for various aspects of the building process.
This year’s mentors are B.J. Meyer from Industrial Finishing Services (analytics and project manager), Dan Huwe and Jake Braukmann from Kit Masters (mechanical design), Jeremy Neuerberg from Northwoods Electric (electronic design), and Jeff Morris, a teacher at PHS (programming and math).
“I emphasized to the mentors: don’t do it for them (the students),” Mycke said earlier in the season. “Show them, but let them do it. And they are all for that.”
Considering the vastly different approach to the season, Mycke has called this year a “rookie redux.”
While it might be unconventional; the hands-off, yet supervisory approach has gone over well with the students on the team.
“It’s a night and day difference,” said Curtis Swanson, based on his previous experiences on the team.
“Last year, at this point with two days left, we probably would maybe have the chassis done,” added Michael Thompson, another veteran team member.
Last year, some portions of their robot were made of wood or held together by duct tape.
Sometimes, the team faced challenges: such as working out a way to make the robot pick up the ball.
“It’s two steps forward, one step back … almost every day,” said Michael. “Some days it’s two steps back, and one step forward. But, if it wasn’t for the men-tors, we would have only been taking steps backward a lot of the time. They brought so much.”
Curtis and Matt Wunderlich agreed, adding that having a plan for how to address their goals was especially effective.
Even with all of the guidance and knowledge around them, the team still ran into some roadblocks that needed creative solutions.
Mycke told the story of a Saturday work session, filled with a series of setbacks. The team took a break for pizza and turned on some AC/DC. At that point, someone referred to the inventive Iron Man character and said, “Channel your inner Tony Stark,” and they were able to get back on track.
“I applaud these guys for doing what they’ve done in such a short amount of time,” said Mycke.
An increasing amount of support from the community has made a good year even better.
“Quite honestly, it’s been amazing,” said Mycke.
Sensors which will automatically help the robot align with the goal were donated by Central Minnesota Credit Union. Subway gave the team fundraising cards to sell. Donations have even come in from people who saw the robot being tested in the school hallways.
Other individuals who are interested in being mentors have already committed to helping for next year, along with advisors from this year.
“People are seeing that this is learning,” said Mycke. “They’re excited to see something tangible.”
A “bag and tag” deadline to end work was at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 18. At that point, rules required all but a portion of the machine was to be packed and sealed away, not be touched until the regional competition in Duluth on March 6.
This year, an exception to that rule went into effect. It allows the robot to be taken out for community demonstrations.
Thursday, Feb. 20, the robot was scheduled to be at Prairie Wind Middle School, and the team will speak to the Perham Rotary Club on Thursday, Feb. 27.