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Robot power

Robotics has become a driving force at Marshall High School, helping kids learn about technology

November 24, 2010
By Jenny Kirk

MARSHALL - Four years ago, Marshall High School principal Brian Jones sparked student interest in a robotics program. Now, those "Tigerbot" students have opportunities available to them beyond their wildest dreams.

Imagine working for NASA, designing a skeletal model that allows a paraplegic to walk by brain command or programming a guidance system in a tractor. There are infinite possibilities for students like Jacob Moe - a senior and fourth-year robotics student at MHS - who, along with a handful of other students, has watched the program expand to more than 20 members.

"There is so much to say about robotics," he said. "It is so much like a business where you're given a deadline and you have to make a product the best it can be. It teaches you the process without you even realizing it."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Pictured is this past year’s Marshall High School robotics team robot. The team has grown in the last four years to more than 20 students.

For Moe, there is just something about technology and the potential it has to bring new things to light that drives his passion. Fortunately, there is also financial support and a good career outlook for the profession as well. US FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics - which MHS students take part in - offers more than $14 million in scholarships.

"I'm definitely looking for a college with technology," Moe said. "It's getting to be a growing field and there are plenty of opportunities. I'm looking at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Yale and a trio of local ones like Moorhead State, Concordia and NDSU (North Dakota State University)."

The possibilities are endless, but a lot of hard work was contributed along the way. Not only does the program run on community donations and grants apart from the Marshall School District, it also requires adult mentors. Luckily for the Tigerbots, there are quality volunteers from the area that have made a difference, including John DeCramer, vice president of engineering at B&H Electronics, Ernie Moe, computer programmer for Schwan's, Tim Swenson, owner of Action Trackchairs and current MSD board member, Cave Gaines and adviser Erik Hall.

Besides Moe, other seniors in the program include Sam Pfaffe, Aaron French, Ryne Myhrberg, Cody Mather, Kate Merna, Christian Klein, Mitch Patzer, Chris Larson, Tavia Buysse and Mai Chery Vue.

"When we go to regional competition, there are over 120 schools," DeCramer said. "They break them down into two equal groups. Then three teams compete against three other teams."

The Minnesota 10,000 Lakes Regional event is sponsored by the University of Minnesota and is in April each year.

"There are robots all over the place, kids all over and parents all over," DeCramer said. "There are also judges everywhere. It's really neat to see."

But the fun doesn't start there - it begins when the robotics team travels to pick up a kit of parts to begin making their yearly robot.

"On Jan. 8th, we'll go to Mankato, where they put an extension site now," DeCramer said. "The whole opening ceremony is webcasted so everyone will be in the theatre watching the official one in New Hampshire."

No one knows what the upcoming project is about until the video is played that day. In past years, MHS students have had to mimic walking on the moon and playing a soccer game.

"You walk into the theater and they tell you what the game plan is and hand you the pieces," Moe said. "They say you have six weeks and then tell you to go."

The kit usually costs around $5,000 and is basically components. Teamwork becomes crucial for getting the robot up and running because on Feb. 22, Fed Ex will pick up the robot and keep it in storage until the April competition.

"Everyone brings their own skills to the table," Moe said. "Someone might be good at engineering design, while others are good at programming. At the beginning, when you get your parts, you have to plan: what's the best way we think we can get it done in six weeks?"

Robotics competition is a lot different than sports, Moe said.

"It's not all about winning," he said. "As you're waiting to compete, a team that you're up against might have something go wrong. In robotics, you want to help them. It's one of our trademarks, and it's called gracious professionalism."

For Moe, it's been the best of both worlds, learning about robotics and spending time with his dad.

"I love taking things apart and putting them back together," Moe said. "It's definitely a good way to bond, too."



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