By Amy Doeun
Natalie Tveit has just completed her second year in a robotics club. Billy’s Bots met twice every week from September through January. Their project moved from a regional competition to sectional and finally state.
On July 25, Tveit, an eighth grader, and other members of her team (and other teams) assembled at the North Branch Area library to share their experiences and encourage other young people to get involved with the sport.
Tveit said that the theme for last year’s competition was “Animal Allies.” There are three components to the competition. Tveit’s mother, Angela, explained: “There is a programming component, how well your robot goes through the obstacle course; core values, how well you work together as a team; and a research project. You are judged equally on all components.”
Tveit’s club created a “snake break dome.”
“Because snakes are endothermic (cold blooded), they need to warm up, and they often go up on roads to heat up,” Tveit explained. “So we made this snake break dome. It is a piece of plywood painted black with a greenhouse over the top. We found that it heats up at the same rate as the road. We put it by their burrows. It is easier for scientists to find them and study them, and the snakes are less stressed out.”
There are several levels of competition for a robotics club. There is the First Lego League, which is for ages 9-14. Angela explained that it really depends on the student’s background when they should advance to the next level, First Tech Challenge, which is for ages 13 and up. There is also a Junior First Lego League, which is kindergarten through third grade.
Scott Badger has been coaching the Time Crafters team for four years now. He coaches at the highest level. Badger is an electrical engineer with Boston Scientific.
“I wanted to start a robotics club with a buddy, and we approached 4-H about sponsoring us,” he said.
He said that the most rewarding part is how much the students learn. In addition to learning JAVA and CAD (computer aided design), they have to learn the mechanics of building robots, like cutting and drilling aluminum.
Several members of Time Crafters were also at the robotics meeting, allowing students to practice driving the robot that they built. They also had a 3-D printer and demonstrated how to use it.
The kickoff for the next robotics season will be 6:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at the North Branch Senior Center. Angela Tveit said so far 48 students have expressed interest in robotics.
“We need coaches; there are six to eight students on a team,” Tveit said.
To find out more about robotics clubs, contact the Chisago County 4-H office at 651-277-0150. Tveit said last year there was a team from Minnesota that went all the way to Australia to compete.