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Hector Ramirez, a Perham High School student involved with the "Jacket Bots" robotics and engineering team, keeps a watchful eye on the robot the students built.

Creating 'Jacket Bots'

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There's a robot roaming the halls at Perham High School.

Not only is it capable of "kicking" a soccer ball around, but it also has a competitive streak.

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This April, the "Jacket Bots," a robotics and engineering team at PHS, will send their robot onto the field to play a specialized soccer-style game. The PHS robot will play against other robots created by teams from Minnesota and several other states.

Perham High School's rookie team will be facing off against 64 other teams. The Robotics Club competition will be April 1-3, at the 10,000 Lakes Regional Tournament at the University of Minnesota.

The competitive game is held annually by the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). According to FRC's website, the competition serves as a "varsity sport for the mind," combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology.

FIRST Breakaway, this year's FRC soccer-style game challenge, has been dubbed "soccer on steroids." Two alliances of three teams each will compete on a 27' by 54' field with bumps, attempting to earn points by collecting soccer balls in their goals. Additional bonus points will be awarded for each robot not touching the field at the end of the match.

Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of students are challenged to raise funds, design a team "brand," hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.  It's as close to "real-world engineering" as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.

FRC provides the opportunity for students interested in robotics to learn from professional engineers; build and compete with a robot of their own design; and learn and use sophisticated software and hardware. Students can compete and cooperate in alliances and tournaments, with the potential to earn a place in the World Championship. Competitors can also qualify for over $12 million in college scholarships.

Five Perham High School boys demonstrated their robot at the Feb. 22 Perham-Dent School Board meeting. The board got a chance to preview the robot in action, prior to it being shipped off to the Twin Cities in preparation for the competition.

One end of the robot features a plunger, and the other a kick bar, both used to send the ball moving in the right direction. The robot is controlled remotely by the students. The robot designed by the Perham High School group also has the ability to travel under a tunnel that is located on the field used for the competition.

The students explained how they received three boxes of parts, starting out with the same base kit as other groups in the competition. From there, it was up to them to figure out how to piece together their unique robot. The students were responsible for programming the robot and even welding the pieces together. Perhaps most challenging of all, the students had to budget every aspect of their project.

Adult mentors from throughout the area were instrumental in making the PHS robot project a success. These volunteers, many from area industries, spent countless hours to help the group along the way. After much "trial and error" problem solving, the PHS robot was finally ready for competition by the end of February.

To follow the Perham High School "Jacket Bots" club online, visit the group's website at jacketbots.webs.com.

FIRST is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization devoted to helping young people discover and develop a passion for science, engineering, technology, and math. Founded nearly 20 years ago by inventor Dean Kamen, the 2008-2009 FIRST season attracted over 196,000 students and over 85,000 mentors, coaches, and volunteers from 51 countries.

The annual programs culminate in an international robotics competition and celebration where teams win recognition, gain self-confidence, develop people and life skills, make new friends, and perhaps discover an unforeseen career path.

Sponsorships

The Jacket Bots robotics team of Perham High School has several sponsors who have generously donated parts, as well as monetary donations, to help the group in its quest to build a robot for the FRC Robotics competition.

Sponsors include:

-549 Family Foundation

The 549 Family Foundation provided a monetary donation that helped the group cover the costs of parts and other necessities needed for the project. 

-PentAir Foundation

The PentAir Foundation helped make the project possible by donating the kit of parts needed to make the robot.

-Braas Company

The Braas Company provided a monetary donation that helped with purchasing parts to fund the project.

-Werner Electric Supply

Werner Electric Supply provided a monetary donation that helped the group pay for the parts and other necessities needed to construct the robot.

-Seelye-Eiler Company

The Seelye-Eiler Company donated parts for constructing the robot.

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