BONNERS FERRY — Bonners Ferry Middle School and High School have teamed up and brought a competitive robotics team to the county. There are robotics teams all over the world that come together to compete in the pre-set challenges.
The robotics team is given a game each year and the team must assemble a working robot to complete the tasks within the game, be it moving boxes to counterweights or even climbing. Each year, students team up and learn advanced mathematics, programming, engineering, team building, and planning skills in order to complete the task at hand.
This year’s game consists of two “switches,” one on each team’s side, that when activated by the weight of the boxes, pauses the opposing team’s score — allowing the team that paused it to gain a point by the second as the second bot fills a center counterweight with the same boxes.
All of the teams consist of three different components: the scouts, the drivers, and the support team. All of the teammates are able to perform all roles, but as with any team, some may be more proficient in a certain area, thus strengthening the team while utilizing their individual talents throughout the competitions.
The drivers control the robots in the game; the support team assists with any repairs or tweaks that need to be made in order for the robot to perform at its best; and the scouting team assesses the other teams in the competition and accumulate a list of the best partnerships for the final rounds.
Every year there is a different game. This year it involves the robots moving blocks from around a rectangular switch and up onto a taller rectangular scale, with the team that has the scale down, gains one point per second, and the other players try to freeze the time of the opposing teams, by strategizing the lower switch weights with the final task being to climb up the tall scale.
All through the event there are negotiations going on and the teams look at strengths, weaknesses, and how you want to play the game, boiling down in the end to who each team is going to pick.
In the final rounds, it comes down to eight teams that have observed and strategized the best and not-so-great team options in a round-robin fashion.
One of the Badgers robotics team members, Rayan Naylor, moved from Georgia about two years ago and had never heard of a robotics team until a friend explained it to her and encouraged her to try out the experience.
“I was never really into programing or engineering and building things, so it was a new adventure,” said Naylor.
She joined the business team and had a hand in writing letters to sponsors, doing the business plan every year, and has been involved in scholarly award giving, honoring students’ hard work and accomplishments. She occasionally writes articles for the Bonners Ferry Herald as well, and has job shadowed the editor, Mandi Bateman. However, in competitions, she helps scout.
“I collect a lot of data about the robots as we watch all of the qualifying matches so that we can develop a picklist later to choose from,” said Naylor. “Robotics has something for everybody, even those not very knowledgeable. I was skeptical about joining at first, but there are jobs for everybody. We will always find something for you to do and be a part of.”
Will Colson came onto the robotics team more aware of what it was all about.
“I had family members that did it before me, and it is just so fascinating how they build the robot, and it always seemed like a really fun thing to do, so that is the reason I started,” said Colson. “The reason I stay in robotics is you get to go to the competitions, and you are fighting against all of these people, and it seems like a sport at that point.”
“It’s like a sporting event, everyone is so intense, the energy is super high, it’s super fun, and all around awesome,” said Naylor.
One doesn’t have to be a math or computer whiz to learn the fundamentals of the technology fields, including robotics and programming.
“The idea is to have an intellectual sport that anyone can join. Once you get there, we train for everything,” said Colson. “When I came into programming, I had no idea what I was doing, I hardly knew the math, but they just run you through it, and you’re good.”
As with any team sport, the teammates must spend a lot of time and work together to accomplish the final goal.
“If you want to join robotics, it’s going to be a really fun thing, and people can just come in and try stuff out, that is all they have to do,” said Colson. “We have even had seniors who have joined, but you can come in at any age and do whatever you really want to try out.”
“The kids program, do the wiring, and the manufacturing, and they do it from scratch,” said mentor Ed Katz.
Even though the team members put in the time, effort, and brain power, there are still underlying costs, which is where donations and sponsors come into play.
“We have a very enthusiastic community response here, and I am very touched by how much the community supports us,” said Katz.
After the Regional competition in Boise, the FIRST Team 2130 Alpha+ is one of four Idaho teams that have qualified for the World Championship in Houston, Texas.
To assist the team with travel expenses, donations may be made to the Bonners Ferry High School Robotics at the high school, located at 6485 Tamarack Lane, Bonners Ferry, Idaho 83805, or to their GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/first-team-2130-alpha.