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Robots on the Move: Dodger Robotics Club Prepares for Virtual Matches - from The Messenger

December 16, 2020

When the two Fort Dodge Senior High Robotics Teams compete in their first matches of the season on Friday, it's going to be unlike any competition they've competed in before.

Normally, the teams would be with a couple dozen other high school robotics teams from across the state, all competing side-by-side in a school gym. But because of high COVID-19 activity in the state, this round of FIRST Tech Challenge matches will be held virtually, with each team competing at home and submitting their scores to the league.

"I think it will be weird, but we'll get used to it," said Matt Jass, a FDSH junior who is in his second year with the Dodger Robotics Team. "It kind of makes it a little harder because when we go to competitions, we actually get to see the other robots and make adjustments based off theirs."

Jass is part of Team 7332, or Dodger Bot, which is comprised of mainly experienced upperclassmen. The other FDSH team is Team 10185, or From the Island of Misfit Robots, which is mostly newer, inexperienced students.

On Dodger Bot, Jass does a lot of the computer coding and actual building of the robot, he said. He doesn't do much of the driving during competitions.

The 14 students in the robotics club have been preparing for this competition since the school year started.

"We built two robots from scratch, from the ground up," said Ed Birkey, Senior High industrial arts teacher and robotics club advisor. "In August, (FIRST Tech Challenge) announces the game and then after you see what the game is, then you can go ahead and build the robot that will work for that game."

During competitions, the robots complete games in a 12-by-12-foot arena. The first part of the game is a 30-second autonomous period where the robot completes tasks that it is programmed to do by the students, like using a sensor to hit certain things or move components into boxes on the floor to score points.

Following that, there is a driver period where a student "drives" the robot using a remote and has it pick up discs off the ground to shoot at a goal. The endgame gives points for robots picking up wobble-poles and placing them outside the arena.

"(The students) do a lot of designing on (computer aided drafting) and do a lot of 3D printing for special brackets or special mechanisms that are going to force these discs into the hopper," Birkey said.

The robots also feature Mecanum wheels, which allow the robot to move forward, backwards and sideways without ever having to turn. 

Jass said he isn't expecting to have any spectacular results from Friday's competition.

"Our robot's not extremely ready," he said. "We haven't had as much time as in previous years to get it ready. So this competition is going to be like us dipping our feet in the water." 

Birkey said that he believes that by February both teams will have improved quite a bit.

"What's going to happen in late February, we're going to have a league championship here with 24 to 27 teams and they will compete head-to-head then," Birkey said. "Then 12 teams will advance to a super-qualifier in LeMars."

Since no spectators will be allowed at the matches on Friday, the club plans to record video of the action and post it on the District's social media pages.

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