Robotics team makes it further this year at world competition
May 5—Team has high hopes for upcoming year
Albert Lea High School's robotics team — the Broken Zip Ties — advanced to the quarterfinals in last week's VEX Robotics World Championships before they were eliminated from competition at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.
The event was last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in a Spin-Up competition, where teams had to launch frisbee-like discs into an elevated goal. The event drew teams from all over the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few.
According to Burke Egner, technology integrationist as well as robotics coach at both the middle and high school, the competition featured 800 teams from 60 different countries.
The team competed against 80 others in the Arts Division.
The event started with eight qualification matches, and after those were over the team ranked 38th out of the 81 teams.
The team also dealt with adversity, including a collision with another robot, something that caused their robot to tip over.
"We didn't have any way to right ourselves because it had never happened to us before," Egner said. "We literally sat on our side for 1:45 seconds and we couldn't get any points."
In another match, the team's partner robot expanded their string outside of the field of play and were disqualified.
They had fly-wheel issues, which are used to help propel discs out of the robot, as well as coding problems.
So the team decided to take the robot back to the hotel and worked on it all night Wednesday.
Following qualifications, the top 16 teams in each division chose alliance partners for eliminations, and Something About Hats, a Delaware-based team, wanted to partner with them because of their automatic compression chamber, a feature that allowed the robot to change disc velocity.
"They could shoot from very close, they could shoot from very far, they could change how far they wanted to shoot the discs which gave us much more versatility to score goals," he said, referring to an adjustment the team made following the state competition after other robotics teams learned to play defense.
The feature allowed their robot to shoot from almost anywhere on the field.
The Broken Zip Ties were also an appealing partner because of their ability to work well with other teams, something not always found in other teams.
"Our team is really good at knowing we have to work together in order to win, and so some of those things have been established," he said. "The Broken Zip Ties have also started to gain a reputation as a solid team, both in Minnesota and as well as outside of Minnesota, so teams are coming and looking for them and talking to them about some of the things that they're doing."
Something About Hats and the Broken Zip Ties advanced two rounds.
If the duo had advanced to the finals and won the Arts Division, they would have moved to the dome to compete against other division winners.
Before the competition began, teams were already acknowledging them from their Instagram and Youtube channels, as well as their discord server.
"We get a lot of compliments on our logo, the team name and we're just really starting to do a good job at building a brand of Albert Lea robotics to showcase the wonderful things that Albert Lea has to offer," he said.
Because other teams already knew them, they had the opportunity to meet teams outside of their region.
Their robot also had something other teams didn't with their active compression changer.
"It basically changes the compression on the fly-wheel for the disk, which basically adjusts how far [discs] shoot between autonomous and match control," said Maxx Richards, a sophomore on the team. "That's something that pretty much no other teams have, and we kind of designed it ourselves.
Richards has been considering a career in a STEM field since he was in elementary school and has been involved in robotics since sixth grade as well.
"We did better than last year, which was kind of our main goal," he said, referring to the world competition last year in which the team failed to advance to the elimination rounds.
Richards' primary role involves working on their engineering notebook, building and serving on the drive team.
His future plans include a career in engineering, but his immediate goal for the future include advancing to the world competition while continuing to improve.
Fellow sophomore Brecken Koepke, who plans to pursue either engineering or computer science, described the experience as "amazing."
"It was a lot of fun getting to meet all these teams as well as having other teams recognize us," he said.
"Every morning we had breakfast with a team from Australia cause they were staying in the same hotel as us so we got to talk to them and kind of see how they were doing throughout the day," Koepke said.
During those breakfast meetings, the teams talked about different VEX strategies and the differences in qualification standards between the countries.
Koepke's primary role is programming, and his responsibilities included coding for the 15-second autonomous portion of matches.
"A lot of times it's planning out those routes and then coding how far we need to move, how quickly and how much we need to shoot these discs," he said.
While there, he also picked up a couple coding tips involving inertial sensors and speed controls.
Like Richards, Koepke joined in sixth grade.
Their goal for next year: win the division and get to the dome.
Egner also wants to continue expanding robotics.
"We'd love to have more students that are inclined for engineering, math, science skills whether you've done robotics or not," he said.
There will also be an all-girls team next year captained by student Molly Nelson.
"Robotics competitions are a great way to get kids that maybe aren't into other activities in the school, or maybe they already are in other activities, it's a great program to learn engineering, networking, communications skills, problem-solving," Egner said, admitting that there was nothing like this when he was a student.
Next year's challenge is Over Under.
This was the team's second year in a row competing in the world competition, and only seniors Easton and Paul "Kenny" Hillman are leaving.
For more information on joining, contact Egner at email@example.com or visit alschools.org/activities on the high school website. They can also contact Activities Director Paul Durbahn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robotics will start again in September.