WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- people think of robotics, they think of StarWars’ robots like R2D2, ThreeCPO, or machines to perform industrial tasks. Well, in some ways the First Robotics uses a lot of that technology to perform specific tasks.

    However the First Robotics is about competition between teams to play a game in which the teams score points to move on.

    Last year was the first year of the Chargers involvement with the top level of First Robotics. The team took their first robot to Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota under the guidance of advisor Jim Menton. This year, since Menton has taken a job at another  district, returning industrial tech teacher Doug Lee is mentoring the program, assisted by Derek Brown.

    This year the game being played is called First Steamworks, the robots must deliver Sprockets which are made of plastic and are about two inches thick and about eight inches in  diameter. The sprockets or gears are used to power the Airships. These gears have to be delivered using a lift mechanism to place them on the airship.

    The Airship runs on steam which is provided by fuel cells (five inch whiffle balls) that are placed in the Airship’s boiler.

    Work on the robots began in January and need to be completed by February 21, at that time the competition robot will be put into a sealed bag, and will not be allowed to be opened until the Regional competition of the Blue Alliance at Cedar Falls, Iowa March 22.

    This year the team has been able to acquire enough parts to build two robots so they can practice with one of them until the competition.

    Since the competition is completely redesigned, the teams have to reconfigure their robot to perform different tasks than the previous year. That creates significant challenges of engineering and construction, programming, and operation of the devices, to control completion of the tasks of the challenge.

    This year the team has fabricated tracks to propel the robot. Last year the robot ran on sets of wheels. This has improved the maneuverability of the robot. The robots are not just toys, as they can weigh up to 150 lbs.     When practicing last week Jared Sanchez pushed a plastic garbage can full of wood scraps with ease. Although the competition is only about completing the specific tasks of the game. The court size is 27 feet wide and 54 feet long, robot operators are all located off court and the robots are operated wirelessly.

    When they get to Cedar Falls the competition will involve teams of three robots. Teams will be chosen by how they are seeded. Lee says when the lead team selects, they will try to pick teams that will enhance their own strengths or strengthen their weaknesses.

    Currently there is 12 students on the team: Adam Hass, Matt Kleven, Koua Vang, Mason Garbe, Ben Olson, Lue Yang, Kevin Sanchez, Jared Sanchez, Paul Yang, Jordyn Berg, Joel Byers, and  Theresa Merrick.

    Team members are required to have 100 hours working on the project to go to the Region Competition at Cedar Falls, Iowa. The Chargers will be among 53 teams from several states including; Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, and Illinois.                

        Providing financial or technical assistance include: Medtronics, Meadowland Cooperative, John  Valentine, State Farm Insurance -Roger Haar, and Wendorf Welding.