BY: ANDREW DAHLEN, Electronics Technology Automated Systems Instructor & VEX Robotics Coordinator
Northland Community & Technical College (NCTC) hosted 47 regional robotics teams at the 2017 Pioneers Robotics VEX Robotics Tournament in Thief River Falls, MN on Saturday, December 2. Leading up to the tournament each team was responsible for designing, building and programming a robot using only VEX Robotics equipment. This year’s tournament challenge, “In the Zone”, was played out on a 12’ x 12’ square field. Teams competed in timed matches, scoring points by stacking cones in goal zones and parking robots. Throughout the tournament teams worked together in an alliance to outscore an opposing alliance. The tournament included practice rounds, qualifying challenges, and elimination matches to determine the tournament champions and to select finalist who will advance to the Minnesota State Championship Tournament on February 2-3, 2018, in St. Cloud, MN.
Awards, Champions and State Finalists
VEX Robotics Competitions include a number of awards which are determined by a panel of volunteer judges. The majority of the judges work at Digi-Key Electronics as engineers and technicians many of which are alumni of NCTC’s Electronics program. The judges evaluated each team based on an interview, the content of their engineering notebook, and performance of their robots in the tournament. Grygla’s Iron Charges (4149C) earned the highest honor at the tournament, the Excellence Award. The Northway Drivers from St. Cloud received the Design Award. Both teams will advance to the State Championship Tournament.
The judges also determined four additional awards. The Energy Award was earned by team 843H Sacred Heart High School of East Grand Forks. The Innovate Award was taken home by team 1535Y Not the S.A.M.E of St. Cloud. Team 4409A Galactic Halo of Warren Alvarado Oslo High School was given the Amaze Award. The Judges Award was presented to team 7458F Artic Knights of Fisher MN.
A VEX Robotics tournament also features a Robot Skills Challenge in which one robot operates in a 60 second solo mission. The Robot Skills Winner is team 4149C Iron Chargers (C Team) of Grygla and second place in the Skills competition was team 7458F, the Artic Knights of Fisher.
Andy Zieglmeier was named Volunteer of the Year for his tireless work in supporting VEX Robotics in Minnesota. Andy coaches two VEX Robotics teams, plans tournaments in Minnesota and emcees many of VEX Robotics Tournaments including the Pioneers Robotics Tournament.
Digi-Key Electronics was named Sponsor of the Year. Many of the tournament volunteers were Digi-Key employees and alumni of the NCTC Electronics Technology program. Moreover, Digi-Key provided door prizes for the event, including a $500 drone with camera.
The Tournament Champions title was awarded to Grygla’s Iron Chargers G Team and Iron Chargers C team paired with Newfolden’s Freeze Frame A team. Sacred Heart High School, Fosston’s Bruhsiden, and Lancater’s Jaszczak Juggernaut were also named Tournament Finalists. These six regional teams received an invitation to compete at the Minnesota State Championship Tournament.
VEX Robotics Around The World
The Pioneers Robotics Tournament is one of a series of VEX Robotics Competitions taking place internationally throughout the year. The VEX Robotics Competition is the world’s fastest growing competitive robotics program for middle schools, high schools and colleges around the world, with more than 18,000 teams from 40 countries playing in over 1,350 competitions worldwide. Minnesota is home to over 300 of these teams.
In addition to the VEX Robotics Tournament at NCTC, the Pioneers Robotics team is booked for 11 additional tournaments throughout Minnesota and North Dakota. Upcoming events include Fisher, MN, on December 9, Mahnomen, MN, on December 16, and East Grand Forks, MN, on December 20.
Educating Manufacturing Leaders of Tomorrow at NCTC
The skills applied in VEX Robotics Competitions are the same skills that are in high-demand by manufacturing companies around the globe. Fixing a robot’s mechanical issues before the next match is akin to repairing key production equipment in a manufacturing plant. Programming and troubleshooting an autonomous mission for a robotic competition is practice for working on the industrial automated equipment used in manufacturing. The goal of Pioneers Robotics outreach is to get young men and women interested in technical careers.
NCTC offers technical career training and degrees in Electronics Technology and Manufacturing Process Technology. The companies which support Pioneer Robotics are looking for tomorrow’s manufacturing technicians with the experience and training these programs provide. In fact, many of the tournament sponsors offer scholarships and part-time jobs for students enrolling in NCTC’s electronics and manufacturing programs.
It was exciting for me to see the passion these students had for their projects. Events like this bring together the manufacturing leaders of today with the leaders of tomorrow and build excitement about industry innovation. In order to remain a leader in manufacturing and robotics innovation, we must continue to engage with and invest in the next generation to enable us all to reach our full potential. I want to thank all the students, coaches, volunteers, and schools that participated in the VEX Robotics Tournament. A special thanks to our corporate sponsors American Crystal Sugar, Digi-Key Electronics, Central Boiler and Philadelphia Macaroni Company.
For tournament and team award photos, please visit the event photo gallery.