April 12, 2023 at 5:18 p.m.
Albany robotics team headed to Houston for international competition
April 19 has become a red-letter day for the Albany Area High School robotics team and Coach Isaac Skalsky.
They will celebrate it in Houston, Texas, competing in the 2023 For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotics competition.
“We qualified in Grand Forks, North Dakota, March 11. Our next competition will be in April at the FIRST international tournament in Houston,” said Skalsky, who is coaching the team for a second year.
The 14-member team was in the second place alliance in Grand Forks, competing against 53 teams.
They were given about eight weeks to build a robot that could perform prescribed tasks in a FIRST Charged-Up competition arena. Skills and knowledge in machining, engineering, coding and fundraising were needed.
“There is something for everybody,” Skalsky said. “You pretty much have to build the robot from scratch. You have to learn how to tell it what to do and control it from a video game controller.”
This year’s challenge was to have a robot collect inflated cubes (made of a material similar to beach balls) and plastic traffic cones. It then has to bring the items to another area of the arena and place them on shelves or in slots, at different heights and dimensions.”
There are limits to the size of the robot.
“There are restrictions on going over a certain height or reaching more than a certain distance outside the robot perimeter,” Skalsky said. “They have many different conditions they have to meet.”
Teams that exceed the stated dimensions are penalized. Albany’s robot is 50 inches high, on a 30-inch by 30-inch square base, and weighs close to 120 pounds. It is within the required parameters. The moving and lifting functions are done with motors.
To get it moving, more than just a knowledge of metals and control are needed.
“The robots are not cheap to build. We have 14 motors on our robot this year. Each motor is $40 apiece and each needs a motor controller that is $90. Just in our 14 motors we are pushing $1,500 to $2,000,” Skalsky said.
There are many roles on a robotics team.
“I have kids whose main focus on the team is marketing and financial management,” Skalsky said. “They are learning those skills.”
Albany debuted its robot March 1-4 during a competition at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in Duluth. The outing was less than spectacular, but a great learning experience that prepared them for success in Grand Forks, according to Skalsky.
“We had some problems and worked them out,” he said. “You can keep making changes to the robot through the whole season. We will be continuing to make changes and learn all the way to Houston.”
In the competition there are two teams, or alliances, competing to score the most points in the arena. There are three schools, chosen randomly, in each alliance. They can assist each other and work to hinder the other teams, within the rules governing interfering. Properly arranging the cubes and cones, speed of completion and skill in maneuvering all earn points for a team and/or alliance.
The team demonstrated its robot during the March 18 Lake Wobegon Community Expo in Albany. It gave people a chance to see the robot the students built and will be using in Houston.
Skalsky said while lessons are learned during the robotic season, it is also about the bonds built.
“This year a bunch of freshmen joined the team,” he said. “Watching my seniors teach the freshmen was a really cool experience. Not only am I excited for what awaits us in Houston, but for the future of the Albany robotics program.”
Donovan Notch, who enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the program, echoed Skalsky’s bond-building sentiments.
“The older students make you feel welcome,” he said.
Makaela Zierden said it has been a fun year of exciting, new experiences, with presentations in front of company boards, competing at two competitions and making it to the world tournament.
“Along with new experiences, we have gained many new skills, including, but not limited to, welding, course construction, machine shop, coding and problem-solving,” she said. “We are so grateful for all the community members that helped us gain these new skills through their support. We truly could not have a team without our amazing sponsors.”
Cameron Smith summed up his experience in a few words.
“Robotics is really unique and exciting,” he said.