SGH/Gerard
Junior Chris Lamm works with Caledonia student Nathan Hagerott (behind Lamm) to build components of a robot.
SGH/Gerard Junior Chris Lamm works with Caledonia student Nathan Hagerott (behind Lamm) to build components of a robot.
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On three school nights a week and Saturdays, a group of 24 students from Caledonia and Spring Grove build robots in Caledonia’s shop classroom.

The Caledonia Robotic Warriors team is working feverishly, preparing for the regional robotic competition.

This year, two Spring Grove students — sophomore Emily Guberud and junior Chris Lamm – joined the team.

Lamm heard about the Robotic Warriors through friends on the soccer team.

“I want to be an engineer in the future, so it helps with that,” Lamm said. “I like prototypes and designing the robot. It’s half the fun.”

Their mission is to build a robot that will deliver fuel (wiffle balls) into low or high goals on a Victorian-era “boiler,” which will create steam to power an airship. The higher goal will earn more points than the lower goal.

Robots will also deliver gears to team members on the airship, located in the middle of a playing arena. Those members will install the gears to turn four rotors, also earning points.

Robotic Warriors will team up with two other schools and work together against another team of three schools to be the first to turn three rotors and then have their robot latch onto the airship, ultimately signaling the end of the competition.

The robot has to run autonomously for the first 15 seconds of the match as programmed previously by students. Then students take over and control the robots for the remaining 2:15 minutes.

Guberud found out about the team from Lamm and researched robotics online.

“It’s fun,” she said. “We use a kit, and then sometimes make modifications.”

How the co-op works

Coach James Larson said Spring Grove chose to co-op with Caledonia this year to see what a robotics team is all about.

“Our (Caledonia) first year... we had experience from another team,” Larson said. “The first year is overwhelming in just getting the robot built, so they (Spring Grove) wanted to partner with us first.”

Four years ago, Larson helped form the Houston team and Caledonia co-oped with Houston’s robotic team. Larson’s son, Logan, was on the team, which won the Rookie All-Star Award at the 2014 Minnesota North Star Regional competition.

The next year, four more Caledonia students joined. The team also attended the robotic program’s world championship competition in St. Louis, Mo.

Larson said 600 teams participated in the competition. Teams from 40 countries and representing 50 languages also attended the competition.

After the second year was complete, Caledonia students sought to form their own robotics team.

Larson made sure their own team was eligible under the organization’s rules, Houston had enough kids left to keep their team and all materials would stay with Houston, and Caledonia would keep the Caledonia business sponsors.

“We checked it out, the (school) board accepted it and embraced it,” Larson said.

Larson interviewed for the coaching position and received it.

Their first year resulted in a team of 17 students, who again attended the world championship and won the 2016 Rookie All-Star Award at the Minnesota regional competition.

“It’s a high school sport, or a mind sport as they call it,” Larson said. “Students can possibly letter in it if they meet the criteria.”

Larson said the program is more than just building robots.

“It’s about building character in the kids and giving them confidence,” he said.

Mentors are key

Each team has a coach and several mentors or volunteers who guide students. For Caledonia’s team, there are about 12 mentors to help with building the robot, such as with electrical and computer software support.

There are three mentors who help with the business side, such as fundraising and sponsorships from Caledonia-area businesses.

Another three mentors run the team’s booster club, and another mentor helps with FIRST awards, finances and T-shirt designs.

“We’d love to have someone mentor from Spring Grove,” Larson said. “It’s always open for someone on the business side and engineering side.”

Mentors also bring different skill sets to help the students; even from the conception of the robot, which Larson said “takes a bit of work to get 24 students and mentors on board with one idea.”

“It really matters on how much depth of mentorship you have. The more the better,” Larson said. “The kids do the work, and the mentors guide them.”

Team members are allowed to float around to different tasks, if they don’t find one that fits for them.

“They can switch, if they don’t like one side or the other,” Larson explained. “We try to get them experience with that, so when they get to college they have an idea of where they want to go.”

Larson added that they encourage the students to succeed and teach them not to be afraid of failing.

“It’s been amazing to watch the kids blossom and having that confidence,” Larson said.

The sky is the limit!

The international organization that governs the competitions, rules and parameters for teams is called For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology or FIRST.

The program also has Lego leagues for grades K-12 with fourth through eighth graders building motorized models while teaching them about a topic in science, technology, engineering or mathematics; tech leagues, which build smaller robots for grades seven through 12; and the First Robotics Competition, which is for grades nine through 12.

Larson said the program encourages two main ideas during competition – gracious professionalism and “coopertition.”

“Gracious professionalism and coopertition is an unbelievable thing. Everyone helps each other to be successful,” Larson said. “Our controller broke last year, so we put out a PSA, and three teams offered us their controllers that they weren’t using. Then, we competed against those teams.”

The competitions are also not limited to states, divisions or size. Any team can compete at the regionals, state or world event.

This year’s regional event, Seven Rivers Regional, will be held on April 12, 13, 14 and 15 at the La Crosse Center in La Crosse.

Larson said about 50 to 60 teams will attend, and the competition is free and open to the public.

Caledonia is also hosting an open scrimmage to area teams on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 19, from 12 to 5 p.m.

Inspections and practice will take place on Saturday, and the scrimmage will commence on Sunday. This is also free and open to the public.

“We are simulating a game out of wood, so the kids get an idea of what it will be like before we go to competition in April,” Larson said. “It’s a large undertaking to get done, so help is nice.”

Assisting the team in putting on the scrimmage is the Seven Rivers Robotic Coalition, a governing body created by coaches of 10 area teams.

Members include Caledonia High School, La Crescent High School, Houston High School, Onalaska High School, West Salem High School, Onalaska Luther High School, Aquinas High School and Central High School in La Crosse.

The coalition helps with fundraisers, collects donations and gets sponsorships from area businesses. Donations are split between schools.

Donations are welcome

Caledonia Robotic Warriors is a 501c3 non-profit group. Local businesses can donate money or materials to the team.

Businesses can also get a sticker on the robot, flag or printed on the team’s T-shirt.

Larson advised for businesses and people contact him first about what materials the team might need. The team does receive a kit of parts on Kick-Off Day, which is when the robots’ task is announced.

Larson can be contacted at caljames@acegroup.cc for donation of materials, mentoring or sponsorship.

Check out the team’s progress at their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CaledoniaRobotics/.