The TeKnights Robotics Team's robot survived regional competition at Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota March 29 to 31.

During the free-throw shoot out and balancing contest, the team's robot - "Orson" - was able to make some baskets for scoring, but had problems balancing on the teeter-totter style bridge with another robot. "That was probably a good thing because several robots fell off the bridge and sustained major damage," said Kingsland FIRST Robotics team adviser Eli Hill.

"This year's competition was called 'Rebound Rumble,' and it can be seen on YouTube at 'FRC 2012 Rebound Rumble' ... Minnesota hosts the biggest FIRST Robotics competition in the nation, with over 120 teams competing."

Overall, the team placed 46 out of 65 teams. Hill noted, "I'm very happy with how well we worked together and am sure that a good time was had by all."

Elaborating on the tech program that brings thousands of students together to test their engineering edge, Hill said, "'F.I.R.S.T.' stands for 'For Inspiration and Recognition of Technology'. The idea is to promote more engineering students to fill the gap in our workforce. Competing students use the latest software and hardware components used in industry today and they learn to work on a team with tight timelines with difficult challenges."

The program isn't just about building a robot, Hill related, as "there is over $14 million dollars in scholarships for FIRST students to further their education."

The students are given a kit that contains programmable parts as well as odd bits that might not be considered robot parts, but the odd bits are the important ones that might lob that mini basketball to a swish. "The ability to shoot a basketball and make a basket is hard enough by hand, let alone doing it with a remote controlled robot ... that adds a different challenge."

Hill shared that Orson's job was to be remotely controlled to the free-throw line, shoot mini basketballs to hoops mounted at various levels and then balance on the teeter-totter and continue making shots, as the TeKnights team had engineered the robot to do. The 2012 TeKnights team, comprised of Jordan Chinnow, Karli Bly, Leah McQueen, Isaak Becker, Jerry Ondieki and mentors Jerry Donney and Cody Knutson, worked hard to create a robot up to that challenge.

The robot debuted during halftime at the boys' home basketball game Thursday, Feb. 16, and the crowd was excited to see it in action. Hill said the debut was the community's last chance to watch it work, however, as it was packaged and sent to the University of Minnesota for inspection and storage until the tournament.

Meanwhile, with no robot to tinker on, the team sought sponsorship for the trip to the tournament in the Twin Cities, as the entry fee this year - for a kit of parts and a place in the tournament - was $6,000.

The competition is a multi-faceted learning opportunity, as everybody on the team began to understand upon arrival on Thursday, March 29.

Hill noted, "Thursday was the practice day and although we passed our mechanical inspection with ease, we had some major programming problems to get our robot up and running with the competition radios. We made a couple trips to the Axe Man surplus store for robot parts and random items that can keep any tinkerer occupied. Fortunately for us, several other teams helped us debug our driver's station. The idea of 'cooper-tition' is everywhere, and many of the programming students who came to our aid were on opposing teams. It was good to see the theme of 'gracious professionalism' everywhere.

"We were able to loan out tools and parts, as well as receive help, and that's what it's all about. They learn that hard work pays off, the competition isn't easy and you get out what you put in. We really worked hard last year to maximize our time on the playing field."

Hill said the kids realize that every second counts and that we "need to work together like a NASCAR pit team to fix problems and keep the robot running."

With the team being "fairly young," with only two members from last year, the competition was an eye opener for many of the team members.

Hill added, "I'm very proud of the students who attended - they kept a positive attitude throughout the competition and overcame lots of obstacles to keep our robot running and ready for the next round. Now that they've seen how the event works, they are amped up to improve in areas that need reinforcement."

Team member Chinnow was impressed by the robots presented in the contest. He added, "At the FIRST Robotics 10,000 Lakes Regional, there were robots that were amazing, and people even more impressive. My favorite part had to be seeing the other robots, like KnightKrawler and Black Viper.

"Also, learning from the other teams on stuff we can do next year. We are heading for corporate sponsorship and going for a larger number of sponsors, and we will be holding more fundraising events, so we'll keep them posted."

Once everyone had seen what the robots could do and winners had been named, it was time to go to the Mall of America, as one team had garnered ride tickets to share. Hill added, "The Onyx Warrior Team donated hundreds of ride tickets for the amusement park at the Mall of America, so our students as well as 60 other teams got to have an evening of free rides thanks to the Onyx Warriors."

Hill expressed his appreciation to the mentors and sponsors who made their 2012 tournament appearance possible. "I'm also very thankful for the mentors who helped me this year - Jerry Donney from IBM was just plain awesome with the amount of hard work and effort he contributed to the team," he said.

Kingsland graduate Cody Knutson also served as a mentor who helped keep the robot running and "kept the kids in good spirits with lots of laughs," according to Hill.

Sponsors were J.C. Penney, IBM, St. Jude's Medical, Spring Valley Dairy Queen, Sunshine Foods, Swiss Valley Farms, Ladd K9 Training, the Bly family, the Nass family and Kingsland Schools."

Now that the tournament is over, the TeKnights will concentrate on raising funds for the 2013 competition, which has an entry fee of $7,500.

More information about the FIRST Robotics program can be found at http://www.usfirst.org/, or contact Eli Hill at 507-346-7276, or e-mail him at hill.eli@kingsland.k12.mn.us.