Robotics club in second year at Alden-Conger High School

Published 9:10 am Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Alden-Conger High School robotics club is beginning its second year armed with the experience of the club’s first year.

“We kind of know how it works. Now we’re ready for the second year,” said science teacher David Bosma, the club’s adviser.

The group held a meeting last week, and there are about 27 students involved in the group. About 15 students participated in the project last year.

Email newsletter signup

“Last year, it was kind of shaky since it was our first year. But we know what we’re doing and we’re going to work with some of the younger kids to get them involved,” said senior Mark Krueger, one of the club’s student leaders.

The culmination of the club’s year is the First Robotics Competition, which Bosma said was started to address a shortage of workers in technical fields.

Last year’s competition was at Williams Arena in the Twin Cities. The top team competes at a national convention. Last year, each robot pulled a trailer, and the object was to get balls into other robots’ trailers.

While the competition isn’t until spring, the club will begin preparing by raising money and looking for people to support the club.

Leading up to the FRC, the club will attend a meeting in early January, where the type of robot and the FRC game will be announced. The different school clubs will also receive supplies to make their robot. The schools then have six weeks to build the robot, before the competition in the spring.

Bosma said other teams had more advanced robots, but Alden-Conger kept their robot simple since it was the first year of the club.

The robot has to be built within certain guidelines each year, and that was difficult at times for the Alden-Conger students.

One of the biggest challenges, Bosma said, was programming the robot, because few involved had experience with the programming software.

“We just plain wanted our robot to be able to move forward, do something simple,” Bosma said.

At the competition, Bosma said the group had to fix the bumpers on the robot to meet specifications.

Aside from the robotics competition, there are also contests for best Web site, best animation software, and there’s an award for a group that helps other clubs.

An important part of the club is for students to be able to apply what they learn. The students have to put the things they do into effect rather than just read it, Bosma said.

Students on the Alden-Conger robotics club are split into four or five teams, with a team for building, a team for the electrical work, a team for the programming, and a support team to buy supplies and advertising work.

While the club is split into teams, working together is still an important part of the project.

“If we get up there, if a wheel’s not working, you have to work together with mechanics and the programmers to get the thing actually working,” Krueger said.

Krueger said it was a challenge to get everything to work correctly, but it was also a challenge to get all the components to work together.

“Getting everything to work together. There’s the robot and the programming, to have them work together. You can do one, but if you don’t get the other one to work it’s not going to really go,” Krueger said.

Krueger and the other students are looking forward to working on the club this year with the experience they gained last year.

“For the most part, it was a new thing to everyone. We had a workshop, but we kind of had to learn on our own. We contacted other people that had done it before to get help. We learned along the way,” Krueger said.

Junior Nathaniel Back worked on electronics last year and helped build the circuit board and the body of the robot.

“We actually know what we’re doing now so we can hopefully get things done faster so we can test the robot and make it better,” Back said.

Krueger said that it came down to the wire last year when they were trying to finish the robot. If they can finish the robot sooner, they’d be able to practice and tweak before the competition.

A number of local groups and companies donated to the cause to get it off the ground last year. Some national software companies also donated software used to program the robot.  

Support for the community and sponsorship is very important, and Bosma said they’ll be looking for local people and groups to support the club in years to come.

People can also help in other ways. Some people in the community helped the group through their expertise in a field. For example, an electrician and a carpenter both helped the club last year. Bosma said that’s beneficial because it shows the students what they can do with the skills gained in the club.

“What they want is the schools to try and get businesses involved to support the high tech industry,” Bosma said.

Industrial tech teacher Sam Hintz, who works with the club, is looking forward to having the program be more advanced this year.

“You can tell the teams that really put a lot of effort into it do very well. It definitely takes time to be successful,” Hintz said.