Outstanding year for Orange Crush robotics

Posted on: May 30, 2018

Outstanding year for Orange Crush robotics

With the most powerful offensive robot in the state, Delano High School’s Orange Crush robotics team made a name for itself during the 2018 season.
 
The team competed at regionals in Iowa and in Minneapolis in late March, and will continue to compete in offseason events during the upcoming summer and fall.
 
In Iowa the Orange Crush squad went 3-6 with a robot that was only 80 percent complete. Then its members tuned up for the Minneapolis meet where they earned the highest offensive power ranking of any team in Minnesota, and also recorded the highest match score of any team in the state while going 8-3 and ranking No. 3 out of about 60 teams after the qualifying rounds.
 
“I was so proud of the drive team,” said Coach Todd Bolzer. “They covered all the bases and played the foul game properly and got a 500-point score in one match. Most scores are in the 180-200 range.”
 
Despite that start, the Delano team was hindered by the alliance system and did not win the regional overall.
 
“We did fantastic this year,” said sophomore Duncan Lee, the manipulator on the two-person drive team. “In capabilities, we’re top in the state right now. Placement-wise, sadly we were not.”
 
The game
This year’s competition was FIRST Power Up, a video game theme in which robots attempted to stack milk crate-type cubes into a switch and a scale, and could also place cubes in an exchange for “power ups” that provided various advantages. Each match started with a 15-second autonomous period during which robots operated according to a pre-programmed pattern, then continued for another 2:15 seconds with the drive team in control of the robot. It ended with robots attempting to climb a tower.
 
During competition robots operate in three-team alliances, and most teams seek to emphasize what their robot does best and hope their alliance partners can make up for shortcomings.
 
“This was a very complicated game, but our robot had the ability to score in any part of the game,” said Bolzer.
 
Standout in competition
Delano’s team excelled in driver capabilities, in comprehensive scouting, in programming and in design. Bolzer said the drive team of Lee, who managed the robot’s tools, and sophomore Brett Bolzer, who managed the drive train itself, was the best he has had in terms of communication and skill.
 
The scouting team was also a key component.
 
“We had kids go to other regionals and watch other robots to develop strategies on how to play the game properly or efficiently. Some went to the North Dakota regionals to see how other teams played it, what mistakes were made, and which things really worked well so they could apply that to our competition,” said Coach Bolzer.
 
Sophomore Collin Sevigny was a member of the scouting team.
 
“I enjoy a lot of the different type of strategies that come with the game. There is always a basic way to play it, but there are also different ways to play it to score more points that other people may not have thought of,” he said. “I watch other teams’ robots and write down what they can do, how often they do it and so on, so when we’re facing them or if we want to be with them in a competition, we can figure out what they’re going to do.”
 
“It’s like a varsity sport of the mind,” said sophomore Jon Kraus.
 
Programming was also a strong point for the Orange Crush squad.
 
“We had a really good autonomous switch,” said senior Alex Moe. “The first 15 seconds of a match are completely automated. Players aren’t allowed to touch any controls. It’s a pre-written program. We used a special motion profiling software that allowed us to very precisely control it on the field and write its paths so it could maneuver around the field and do the autonomous sequence to gain us points right away.”
 
In addition to a skilled drive team, exceptional scouting and precision programming, the team benefitted from an outstanding design. First, the robot moved about on mecanum wheels.
 
“So not only will it turn like a tank, it can also go straight sideways,” said Coach Bolzer.
 
A drawback to mecanum wheels is that robots mounted on them can typically be pushed around easily by competitors, but the DHS team devised a braking system that allowed it to stand its ground. Speed and power were additional standout features.
 
“This robot had a two-speed gear box of four feet per second and 14 feet per second. So when they needed to go fast they could outrun any robot out there, but when they needed power to push they could put it in that low gear and have that much more power to push other robots out of the way,” said Coach Bolzer.
 
The robot could also climb by deploying a rope on a hook, attaching to a climbing bar, and pulling itself up while leaving room for alliance partners. A telescoping linear actuator arm also allowed it to reach up over six feet to place blocks on the scale, and a set of spinning wheels allowed it to efficiently gather up cubes, carry them and eject them at the proper locations.
 
The value
About 29 students started the year with the robotics team, and 19 finished after competing schedules required some to drop out.
 
“This is a very time-consuming activity. However, if they spend the time on it they get a lot out of it,” said Coach Bolzer.
 
Moe agreed that the students felt the same way.
 
“I just find it a lot more interesting than regular athletic competitions, and you learn a lot of really useful life skills,” he said. “In robotics we build the robot and program it and do all the wiring and pneumatics. But we also do a bunch of marketing, fundraising, presenting, outreach and community stuff. There are entrepreneurship type things too. We have to sell our robot to other teams, show them why it’s a good robot and connect with and help other teams. That will be good experience to have in any business setting or any facet of life.”