The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 29, 2013

St. Peter robotics team wins national Creativity Award

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — Among more than 10,000 student competitors from around the world, St. Peter’s Nordic Storm robotics team walked away from the FIRST national robotics competition this weekend with a prestigious award.

In St. Louis, Mo., in front of a crowd of 25,000 people, the St. Peter team competed in this year’s game — which is the same throughout the season — to try to score as many flying discs into goals. Among the spectators was hip-hop star will.i.am, who volunteers with FIRST.

Competing against 650 teams from 37 countries, Nordic Storm won the Creativity Award for their unique robot, designed to pull itself to the top of a structure.

“It was a very cool moment,” said coach Deb Johnson. “The kids had planned their strategy pretty strategically this year. They wanted to be a climber, and they stuck to it.”

The team had won the Engineering Inspiration award at the regional competition earlier this spring, which qualified them for nationals and provided them with a $5,000 grant from NASA to pay the registration fee.

For this year’s challenge, two metal-frame pyramids were placed in the 27-foot by 54-foot playing field. Two of the playing field walls had slots worth different points that the robots had to shoot Frisbees through. The goal worth the most points was on top of either pyramid.

Most robots were launching Frisbees from the ground level. But Nordic Storm’s strategy was to focus heavily on the robot’s climbing ability, Johnson said.

“(At nationals), it was still pretty unique,” she said. “Not very many climbed. ... I’m really proud that they didn’t get sidetracked on what their goals were.”

Senior Daniel Halvorson said the team built the robot to cruise up to the pyramid, secure itself onto one of the metal bars, pull itself to the top of the structure, and place the Frisbee in the goal.

Every year competitors receive only some of the parts to build a robot and a rules manual for the competition. How the robots are designed, how they accomplish tasks to score points and how they are programmed is all left to students.