Local robotics team finishes second at state

Perpetual Motion team members prepare their robot Roberto for a FIRST Tech Challenge competition.
Courtesy photo

SODA SPRINGS, Calif. — A local robotics team defied odds to finish as state runners-up in their first season of competing in the FIRST Nevada Tech Challenge.

Perpetual Motion, a four-student team that’s based in Soda Springs, took their robot, Roberto, to Las Vegas earlier this month to take on 30 other robots from around the state.

Students Lance Wogsland, Isabelle Wogsland, Kathryn Lopez, and Blake Startsev began working on their robot in September, and then spent the six months perfecting their design before taking on larger, more established teams from Nevada and California.

Sophomore Lance Wogsland formed the team after participating in Truckee High School’s robotics program. He said he’s been interested in robotics ever since he can remember. According to his father, Lance began building an electric motorcycle at age 5 and had it running by age 7.  

Ahead of his sophomore year of high school, Lance wanted to from his own robotics team, and soon had recruited his sister Isabelle, eighth grade; along with friends Startsev; 10th grade; and Lopez, ninth grade, to form Perpetual Motion.

The students went up against schools from Nevada’s FIRST Tech Challenge league. Each year FIRST Tech creates a new game with certain tasks and rules. Students must then design and program a robot to accomplish the challenge. This year’s game involved robots picking up cones and dropping them onto poles of various heights.

“There’s a lot of trial and error,” said Lance. “There were definitely a whole lot of setbacks, especially when we’re a rookie team and very new. There’s definitely a lot of stuff that goes wrong, but we kept on fixing it and working on our robot throughout the year. We managed to place second, which is amazing. It’s really incredible.”

As a new team to the league, the members of Perpetual Motion said they found help from more experienced programs, specifically making trips to Virginia City, Nevada to learn from that program’s students. The team from Virginia City would ultimately capture this year’s state title.

Once the rules for this season came out in September, Perpetual Motion set out designing their robot and gathering materials.

As a community-based team and in their first year, the students didn’t have access to the resources teams formed out of high school programs are afforded. They were, however, able to land a couple grants to help offset the cost of building the robot, which can have a price tag of several thousand dollars. The students also made a trip to Las Vegas to pick up parts donated from a former team that was comprised of high school seniors from a year ago. 

With rules for the season in place, Perpetual Motion set to work on building their robot. They took parts from three different manufacturers and were able to assemble them together to form Roberto.

In order to pick up the cones in this year’s challenge, the team went through five different hand designs, including at one time making use of kitchen tongs. Eventually, the students settled on a pincer-like metal hand that could be oriented in a number of directions through servomotors. Once completed the robot could extend an arm, control its hand much the way a wrist would, pick up a cone, drive to the target rod and drop the cone onto it in order to score competition points.

“We spent the whole entire season trying to get that perfect,” said Lance Wogsland.

Though perfecting the robots ability to pick up cones was the most challenging aspect, according to team members, Roberto had a number of other issues that revealed themselves during Perpetual Motion’s regular season competitions against Northern League teams.

One of the initial challenges the team faced was a problem with static electricity building up on the 12×12 foot playing surface. Roberto would often contact one of the metal poles on the floor causing a discharge and killing the robot. Perpetual Motion solved the problem by 3D printing bumpers for the robot.

The team continued to make adjustments throughout the season, coming up with imaginative ways to prevent issues like wires from breaking as the arm extended or adding the head of a toothbrush to act as a pulley guide.

“There can be some pretty silly mechanical fails, but as long as we kept fixing them, we were alright,” said Startsev.

Aside from the mechanical aspects, the robot also had to be programmed. Lance, who said he had a year of high school computer programming before undertaking the project, spent countless hours throughout the season coding Roberto to perform its tasks, which included an automated portion of the challenges where robots must use their camera to identify symbols on the side of the cones.

On a number of occasions, Lance said Roberto’s code, which was written in Java, would simply disappear, forcing him to reprogram certain aspects of the robot hours before a competition was set to begin.

The robot’s changes in design must also be documented throughout the season as part of judging criteria during competition.

“In addition to just competing in matches throughout the entire season, you have to keep track of all the different designs you’ve done,” said Isabelle. “And you have to make a notebook, and then you have present it to the judges.”

After five regular season league contests, Perpetual Motion entered the Northern League Tournament and earned the Judge’s Choice Award while also qualifying for the sate tournament in Las Vegas.

Perpetual Motion went on to finish in second place at the state championships, outdueling more established programs with more resources and more students on each team.

The team was given the Finalist Alliance – Captain award, and also earned the second place Motivate Award.

Perpetual Motion will help the VC Silver Circuits prepare for the World Championships in Houston by participating at an event on April 12 at the Innevation Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Perpetual Motion is coached by Kammie Wogsland. The students say they plan on competing again next season.

Isabelle Wogsland works to repair Roberto.
Courtesy photo
Blake Startsev (left) and Lance Wogsland work on Roberto.
Courtesy photo
Lance and Isabelle Wogsland pose wit their second-place trophy at the Nevada state championships in Las Vegas.
Courtesy photo

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