The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 2, 2013

St. Peter robotics team bound for national tournament

By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer

ST PETER — St. Peter’s Nordic Storm team has qualified for the national FIRST Robotics competition again this year, and NASA is picking up the $5,000 registration fee.

Last year was the first time the team had made it to nationals, and coach Deb Johnson described the achievement as a “heart-stopping” surprise. This year’s heart-stopping surprise came with the award the team won.

At the 10,000 Lakes FIRST regional competition at the University of Minnesota, Nordic Storm competed against 62 other teams and was knocked out in the semi-finals. But the team won the Engineering Inspiration award, which qualified it again to compete in the St. Louis, Mo., tournament at the end of April. The award also comes with a $5,000 grant for registration.

“The kids are super excited,” Johnson said.

The Engineering Inspiration award signifies the “strong engineering design process the team followed by prototyping, using computer-aided drafting, and machining their parts to build a 120-pound robot — in addition to the many hours of outreach the team completes each year to encourage youth in the area to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” Johnson said.

The student-led Nordic Storm’s robot this year is nicknamed Ratatoskr, meaning “drill-tooth,” after a Norse mythological squirrel.

“The judges were very impressed with their design,” Johnson said. “It’s a sight to behold, and it really catches people’s eye because it’s such a unique design.”

For this year’s challenge, “Ultimate Ascent,” 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 this year was to focus heavily on the robot’s climbing ability, Johnson said.

“Climbing that pyramid, that ended up being very, very, very difficult,” said senior Daniel Halvorson. “We spent our whole season doing it.”

Halvorson said the team built the components and tested them separately, so about mid-season when they put it all together and watched the robot climb for the first time, it was “just magical.”

During the competition, Ratatoskr cruised up to the pyramid, secured itself onto one of the metal bars, pulled itself to the top of the structure, and placed the Frisbee in the goal. No other robots at the competition did that, Johnson said, which “dazzled the judges.”

“Other teams were able to climb, but none of the other teams were able to climb and put Frisbees up there,” she said.

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 are left to students.

The 25-member team now has to raise about $5,000 for the St. Louis trip expenses; 17 students are going on the trip.


  Anyone interested in sponsoring the team can call Johnson at 995-9551 or email Visit to make a donation or for more information.