Robotics team earns high rank | News, Sports, Jobs

ABOVE: First row from left: Kaylee Nelson, Alyssa Lutz, Cindy Viesselman. Second row from left: Hannah Botzet, Isaac Sheard, Aiden Nelson, Ben Moeller, Andrew Haugen, Sam Grogin, Amanda Poetter. Back row from left: Logan Kahler, Robert Malo, Noah Vetter, Jason Nelson, Sam Viesselman. Not pictured: Matthew Malo, Jonathan Heinze, Ty Nawrocki, and Sebastian Castro.

FAIRMONT – Over the weekend, Fairmont High School’s robotics team placed fourth out of 53 teams at the Northern Lights Regional competition at the convention center in Duluth. This is the highest the team has placed since its inception in 2009.

Sam Viesselman is a lead mentor of the team. He actually started as one of the first students on Fairmont’s robotics team and after returning to town after college, has been one of the team’s mentors. This year’s other mentors include Cindy Viesselman, Logan Kahler, Robert Malo and Jason Nelson. Some have students on the team or are in the industry.

Viesselman shared that the team consists of 14 students grades 9 through 12 and that it started meeting several nights a week in mid-November.

The first few months of the season the team works on going over the basics of the program and getting the younger students up to speed. Then on the first weekend of January, this year’s challenge is revealed through a video by FIRST Robotics. Viesselman said the team watches it together and starts coming up with a strategy.

Not only does Fairmont’s team watch it, but thousands of teams across the world watch to see what the challenge is. Viesselman said the majority of the teams are from the United States and Canada but there are some teams in Europe and China as well.

This year’s task was to build a robot that could throw a large tennis ball in a basket and also lift itself up on a bar.

“We only have about six or seven weeks to build it so we have a pretty strict schedule,” Viesselman said.

Each team is given a reduced list of several components their robot must be made of, but other than that, it’s up to each team to build its robot however it wants. Because of this each team ends up with a unique robot.

As for the parts, Viesselman said the team buys or manufactures the parts it needs. It relies heavily on funding from a number of local businesses.

This year Zierke Built Manufacturing also made and cut out several parts for the robot that the team designed. Viesselman said the team was able to tour the facility and watch as the parts were made.

“They actually got to build their robot through that process,” Viesselman said.

The team spends its season preparing for the one regional competition. Fairmont’s robotics team last competed in Duluth in 2019 and in 2020 it competed at the Great Northern Regional in Grand Forks. There are a handful of regional competitions that can be picked from.

“Everything is open. There’s no classes or state lines, ” Viesselman explained.

Students and mentors, along with their 150-pound robot and equipment, took a coach bus up to the competition on Wednesday night. Thursday was inspection and practice day. At that time each team’s robot was looked over to make sure it met the correct qualifications for weight and size.

Viesselman said teams also used that first day to practice on the field, which is about 30 by 50 feet.

“It’s hard to simulate that in a classroom,” he said.

The way the competition works, a member from each team teams up with two members from two different schools so it’s three unique robots competing against three other unique robots. Then there’s a points ranking system after each round.

The team played six matches on Friday and three on Saturday and ended up 8-1. During the final round, the team was playing with teams from Cottage Grove and Edina.

“We ended up ranked fourth out of 53 teams,” Viesselman said.

While the competition served as a time for all the team’s hard work to be put into action, it was also a time of learning. Viesselman said between the matches, students will work together to fix anything that broke on their robot.

“It’s like a NASCAR pit crew,” he said.

There’s a mini machine shed so students can get the pieces they need to fix their robot. However, students often help fix other team’s robots, too.

“Because you have random teammates, if you help somebody, you’re just as likely to play with them as against them. It benefits you to help, ” Viesselman said.

He said the term that’s used is “Co-operation.” The rules have been structured so that it benefits teams to help each other.

In addition to placing so high, the team also received a special award from the judges. The teams are judged by industry professionals from companies such as 3M.

“It’s a great experience for students to meet some people in the industry aside from the mentors on their team,” Viesselman said.

The judges come around and interview members of the teams. It was through this process that Fairmont’s team ended up receiving the Quality award for its robot.

“Of the 53 teams there, they deemed it high quality,” Viesselman said.

The description of the award is that the robot celebrates machine robustness, concept and fabrication. Members of the team had to be able to verbally explain the robot’s plan to the judges, without the mentor’s help. Then the judges decided based on the team’s description and the robot’s performance.

As for why the team did so well this year, Viesselman said he believes there are several reasons.

“We’ve built up our community support over the years,” he said.

He said increased support from the school district has also aided in the team’s success.

The way the team operates is that knowledge trickles down as the older students teach the younger students. However, this year’s team is quite young. There are two seniors, two juniors, two freshmen and eight sophomores.

“That group of kids really stepped up to do a lot. I’m looking forward to having them for another two years, ” Viesselman said of the latter group.

He said it was also beneficial for the younger students to be able to step up and fill roles that upperclassmen usually do.

In a non-Covid year, Viesselman said the team performed well enough to qualify for the world competition in Detroit, but that it’s going to be a reduced competition and fewer teams are accepted because of that.

However, Viesselman said it’s likely the team qualified for the state competition, which will be held on May 7. Since there are several more competitions taking place over the state, it will be a few weeks before the team knows for sure.

Fairmont’s robotics team has never made it to the state competition before.

“I’m proud that our young team of mostly rookie members rose to the occasion and handled the pressure of performing so well. They let their preparation, hard work and newly acquired knowledge shine through to achieve these results, ” Viesselman said.

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