Featured activity – Highland Park Automatons

Every Thursday, the woodshop at Highland Park is filled with about twenty students programming and working with fuses, miscellaneous robot arms, and electrical cords. Other students are designing the team website, taking photos, preparing marketing speeches, and planning fundraisers. This organized chaos is just a typical weekly meeting for the robotics team.

Right now the Highland Park FIRST robotics team, the Automatons, is gearing up for build season: the time in which they will work on the robotics challenge that will be unveiled in early January. Each year, a different challenge is presented and teams must build robots over a two-month period that will be able to rival robots of other teams at the regional competition. Last year, the goal was to create a robot to throw Frisbees and climb. Frisbee throws were aimed into several slots and points were scored based on the difficulty of the shot. Climbing effectiveness of the robot was determined through height; the higher the climb the more points. Regarding the outcome of the competition, senior team captain Aaron D’sa says, “We got into the top half, which is way better than a lot of other teams. Our robot was simple enough where if something went terribly wrong, we would have an idea of where to fix it. Overall, the competition went pretty well.” The Automatons were able to build a great robot and advance to semifinals, but they hope for even more success in their upcoming year.

For now, the team is trying to hone in the skills that they will need to use later in the year. With the guidance of the robotics coaches, mentors, and dedicated parents, each team member is responsible for mastering as many lessons as possible from a set of illustrious binders known as the “lazy mentors” which contain all the keys to success in robot-building. “The team is learning how to put real-life examples to what they’re learning in their science, math, and engineering classes. It’s really a great application of their knowledge,” says Coach Lynn Ihlenfeldt.

The team is comprised of a diverse group of students of all different ages and experience levels in robot building. For some aspiring to work in a science, technology, engineering, or math career, it is a chance to sharpen technological skills, while for others it is a totally new experience. Co-Captain David White gives insight on building a robot without prior building experience. “It’s totally doable, I mean you can walk in with nothing and still build a successful robot in the end…For me, robotics is definitely providing more experience [in STEM].” Misha Prasolov is a programmer on the team. He says, “As a programmer, I usually brainstorm with the other programmers to figure out the best way to text or code the functions needed to make the robot do things. I like coding. I feel like it could be a really great profession.”

Something that a lot of students don’t realize is that there are many parts to the team beyond robot building. “There are lots of cool things you can do in robotics. A big part of it is doing outreach, marketing, designing and programming, as well as building the robot,” says Coach Lynn. The team also participates in volunteer work to give back to the community. In the past, they have mentored FIRST Lego League teams, been involved in robotics at the State Fair, and participated in showcases for young students interested in robotics like an event at the Mall of America. The team tries to give back to their community and be positive role models, especially for budding STEM students.

Robotics is an expensive activity due to the parts that are needed for building, along with entry fees for competitions. The business sector of the team includes several students who apply for grants and organize fundraisers. Jack McKenna, a member of the business team, encourages Highland Park students to help out in any way that they are able. According to Jack,  “The team really needs help from our school. Highland Park students can participate in fundraisers by doing normal things such as going to Starbucks and buying coffee or going to Chipotle and buying a meal. We hope to see everyone at some fundraisers later in the year!”

For more information, visit the team website: http://www.team2823.com/

Or connect with the team on Twitter @frc2823