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Full Metal Jackets show what their bot's got

Perham High School's robotics team has just wrapped up another season, and its leaders say the young team is showing progress and promise as the kids continue to learn new skills.

Gage Grunst, with his hand on a controller, upper right, lines up the robot to place a gear. Submitted photo
Gage Grunst, with his hand on a controller, upper right, lines up the robot to place a gear. Submitted photo

Perham High School's robotics team has just wrapped up another season, and its leaders say the young team is showing progress and promise as the kids continue to learn new skills.

The team, named the Full Metal Jackets, spent six weeks building a robot capable of grabbing small objects and climbing up a rope - abilities it needed in order to score points in competition.

Coached by chemistry and physics teacher John Bell, the Full Metal Jackets is a team of mostly freshman and sophomores. None of the team members, including Bell, has more than two years of experience in robotics.

Those who were with the team last year say there was a noticeable improvement in how well their robot functioned this year, and in how confidently the team was able to operate it.

The Full Metal Jackets was one of 60 teams to compete at the Minnesota FIRST Northern Light Regionals March 1-4, at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center in Duluth, Minn.

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Competing teams scored points by accomplishing different feats with their robots. The bots had to be able to complete specific tasks, some of them while being manually controlled, and others autonomously after being preprogrammed.

The competition was framed as a game. The object was to place 12-inch game pieces (or gears) onto springs, shoot balls into low or high goals, and climb a rope, all within a set time limit.

"Our game play seemed to improve throughout the weekend," said Bell in an email to the Focus. "During our first match we only got one gear scored and came within half a second from scoring the climb at the end. By the end, we were scoring points for our autonomous program, scoring multiple gears and climbing the rope."

"Last year it felt like the robot was falling apart as we progressed through the weekend," he added. "This year we were getting more comfortable with the controls and getting stronger throughout."

Results posted online show the team ranked 50th out of the 60 teams.

Bell and his team members said the most striking thing about robotics competitions is how much cooperation there is between teams, and how much shared learning goes on.

"The teams at the competition all fit into FIRST's idea of gracious professionalism," said team member Gage Grunst. "If you need a tool or supplies and another team has them, they will let you use them or have them on a whim."

"You obviously want to win and be successful," added Bell, "but you want it to be against the best robots out there. Everyone is striving to be helpful and help the other teams be their best."

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"The community in robotics is awesome," said team member Luke Wunderlich. "Unusual and interesting is the norm."

Grunst said he thinks the Perham team's bot performed well for the competition, overall, though it initially had some trouble making the climb.

"The highlight of the rounds was getting our robot to climb the rope," he said. "It was our goal from the beginning to see us making those 50 points for our team. I nearly lost my voice yelling in excitement when...we made it up, but it was totally worth it."

Key supporters of this year's Full Metal Jackets included Pentair, Kit Masters and Ace Hardware.

Looking ahead to the future, the team is optimistic.

"We've got a young team," Bell said. "I'm learning new things every year and the students are, as well. I think we'll be able to be very competitive next year."

A writer, editor and mom of four (two kids, two dogs), Marie's been in the newspaper business for over 20 years. She started at the Detroit Lakes Tribune in 2017 after working just down the road at the Perham Focus for several years. Before that, she was at the Herald-Review in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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