Spartan Robotics teams don’t just build robots

Henry Burkhardt , Staff Writer

On Oct. 25  the spartan robotics team hosted one of their first events this year — an open house for the whole Saint Paul Academy and Summit School community. Among other things, the team unveiled this year’s robot, specially designed to meet the challenges of this year’s space-themed “Rover Ruckus” challenge. Michaela Polley, a founding member and outreach captain for the team, says this theme poses a unique challenge for their team. Part of this year’s competition entails physically hanging the robot from a structure “Our robot has done things with linear slide before, but we’ve never actually had to hang the robot.” Although the technical side of robotics is very important, an often overlooked aspect of robotics is community outreach.

The open house on Oct. 25, in addition to spreading publicity for the team, also gives the team a needed edge against their competition.

There are two components to any high school level robotics competition. In the first component,  teams are expected to complete various challenges with their robots — and are judged on how well their robot completes each task. The second part of the competition focuses not on engineering or programming, but instead on community outreach. Robotics teams receive points for being involved in their communities as well as building and operating a successful robot. To some, this may seem trivial or non-essential, but to the SPA team, this is not the case.

In addition to building robots that complete challenges and documenting our progress, we are expected to reach out to the broader community.”

— Gabriel Konar-Steenberg

Senior Gabriel Konar-Steenberg is one of the founding members of the team and serves as the lead programmer. “Outreach is a vital part of the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC),” said Konar-Steenberg, “in addition to building robots that complete challenges and documenting our progress, we are expected to reach out to the broader community.”

In the past, the team has lost valuable points on the outreach side of the competition. This year the team is trying not to make the same mistake by talking with more people, planning events and sharing their knowledge about robotics. According to Konar Steenberg, the team has, among other things, “set up a meeting with a former FTC team member at the U of M to get advice on our engineering notebook, […] published a “library” of advanced code that other teams can use and contribute to; and given a programming presentation to other FTC teams.”

Polley adds to Konar-Steenberg’s already extensive list of how the team plans to extend their community outreach. Among other things, Polley says the team is planning on “bringing speakers in for the community, going to different engineering firms [..] and were also hosting a scrimmage for other FTC teams.” The team is also “actively mentoring” Lego League teams in both the Lower School and Middle School according to Polley.

Overall, the robotics team’s season is off to good a start and the team has high hopes for their first competition on Dec. 1. If their work in community outreach benefits them in the way they hope it will, we could be seeing FTC teams #11117 and #12660 at progress to the state competition this year.