Josh Vandeweerd and Isaac Becker work on the Kingsland TeKnights robotics team's 2013 robotics competition entry.
Josh Vandeweerd and Isaac Becker work on the Kingsland TeKnights robotics team's 2013 robotics competition entry.
The gear mission, should they choose to accept it: Fling it.

"This year's robot is supposed to shoot Frisbees at certain targets, and if they want it to, it can climb certain obstacles," said Kingsland tech ed instructor Andrew Brouwer, describing the 2013 TeKnights team's Robotics First robot, which will soon be completed and sealed for storage until the team convenes for the annual state robotics competition at the Duluth Convention Center in Duluth, Minn., from March 7 through 9.

This year's TeKnights robotics team is comprised of Jordan Chinnow, Isaac Becker, Tori Jones, James Hayes-Hall, Kristian Pike, Brandon Balliet, Josh Vandeweerd, Elia Hurst, Isaac Hurst, advisers Brouwer and Brad Reiter and fix-it man Jerry Donney.

They are all working, literally down to the wire, to finish the robot they built from a kit of Robotics First competition-supplied components before the completion deadline, checking and re-checking connections, maneuvering, interaction with the controlling computer, aim and balance.

The team, sponsored by J.C. Penney's, Medtronic of Rochester, IBM and Swiss Valley Farms, has met each Monday, Wednesday and Friday since the kit arrived on Jan. 5, building the framework and adding the tech gear that makes it truly a robot.

The project teaches students teamwork and problem-solving skills, as well as "gracious professionalism."

Chinnow volunteered to be spokesman for the team, saying, "It's pretty much the same robot as last year's, but we've changed some things, like how it throws. The first week is the big framework-building week, and after that, once we get the electrical stuff hooked up and the wi-fi connected, we'll be able to finish the robot. It's pretty fast from there.

"Right now, it's kind of frustrating because we're having connection problems, but once we finish that, we'll be able to get the rest done ... we'll have to worry about different problems like height constraints and weight distribution because it has to be able to suspend in the air off a pyramid jungle gym and has to climb one level, hit targets of different levels and different sizes, and the higher and slimmer the targets it shoots into, the more points we get."

Last year's robot was tasked with shooting basketballs at specific targets, and the team saw "all different kinds of robots, some 5 feet tall and others that you wouldn't believe ... you see things that you wouldn't believe," noted Chinnow.

Brouwer has particular interest in the 2013 contest, as it is his first year teaching at Kingsland and also his first year accompanying a team to competition.

"I'm excited ... they're down to the wire, and they've been working hard on this. They've got to get pushing and get this done because it has to be sealed up by midnight on Tuesday (Feb. 19). I've never done this before, but it's fun."

Chinnow anticipates "definitely seeing the other teams' robots, because they get kind of crazy."

Team member Becker noted that while he doesn't enjoy the building phase as much as he does the competition itself, he finds "there's a challenge in the competition ... it's what makes robotics fun for us.

"We get there and see what other teams did differently - they come up with things you wouldn't think anyone would have thought of in design. We've seen robots as tall as us and some made fully out of plastic."

Becker added, "At the competition, everybody's sharing parts and helping with robots if people need it. I like that the people who volunteer at the competition are there just to help you, not to make money on anything. It's based on gracious professionalism."

Though last year's robot made a debut at a basketball game, there's little time for public demonstrations this winter. However, the team wished to thank those who volunteer or sponsor them as they geared up for great fun and some serious Frisbee flinging come March.