Countywide robotics team ready to reboot

by Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon

AFTER ENDURING CANCELLATIONS related to the COVID-19 pandemic during the past two years, the Sheboygan County RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team is back in action for a full competitive 2022 season. — photo by Jeff Pederson

It has been quite a while since the Sheboygan County RoboRiot 3418 high school robotics team’s last full season of competition.

In fact, it has been nearly three years since the squad last tested its robot constructing and operating skills on the big stage at the 2019 For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Regional Robotics Contest at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Area in Milwaukee.

In 2020, the RoboRiot team had built its robotic and was all ready to compete in a pair of regional competitions in Milwaukee and La Crosse. However, the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March led to the cancellation of the 2020 regional contests and also wiped out the entire 2021 robotics season as well.

Flash forward to 2022 and its all systems go for the new, streamlined version of the RoboRiot unit.

Since originally forming 13 years ago, the combined RoboRiot 3418 countywide high school robotics team, which is based at Sheboygan Falls High School, has enjoyed its fair share of success and developed a reputation as one of the most consistently strong robotics programs in the state of Wisconsin. 

Since 2012, the squad has enjoyed a steady rise to the top of the FIRST Milwaukee Regional Robotics Contest standings with appearances in the quarterfinals (2012, 2016, 2018), semifinals (2014, 2017) and finals (2015), including a fourth-place showing in 2014 and a runner-up finish in 2015 in a competition that has been dubbed “The varsity sport of the mind.”

While the team’s last appearance at the 2019 Milwaukee Regionals was did not net a memorable result, RoboRiot 3418 did standout in the 55-team field in the area of robot design as it won the Engineering Excellence Award at the Milwaukee Regional.

“Because of COVID taking out our last two competitive seasons, our group of 10 seniors on the team this year are the only team members that have competed at regionals before,” Kaden Beltran, Sheboygan Falls High School senior and fabrication team captain said. “We didn’t do well at the 2019 Milwaukee Regional competition wise, but it was the first time our team has ever earned the Engineering Excellence Award, so it was a pretty impressive accomplishment for us.

“In order to be considered for the Engineering Excellence Award, the team had to go through an interview with the judges, and we were able to articulate the engineering criteria the judges were looking for the best out of all of the teams that competed last year, which was pretty cool,” he said.

While the 2020 team had 35 team members, this year’s 2022 RoboRiot squad features a slimmed down roster of 21 team members, including 17 students from Sheboygan Falls High School, two from Plymouth High School, one from Howards Grove High School and one from Sheboygan South High School.

In addition, 17 adult mentors from the corporate and educational fields of engineering, electrical and computer-based design are assisting this year’s team.

Kirby Nichols of Kohler Co. has stepped in as the team’s new lead mentor.

“I was involved as mentor with the RoboRiot team six years ago and then I moved to help a different robotics team,” Nichols said. “I’m happy to be back with the RoboRiot team this year in my first year as the lead mentor.

“I have an engineering background, including four years as a manager, which is the professional expertise I bring to the team as a mentor,” he said. “It has been a great experience so far. This has been a very good team of students to work with. We knew this was going to be a restart year, which presents some extra challenges. A lot of the students are not familiar with how this all works, but the seniors have done a great job of leading the way and making to make sure we are as organized and prepared as we can be.”

The 2022 FIRST Robotics season began with a kickoff event on Jan. 8, continuing at a swift pace with four scheduled team build sessions per week during evenings and weekends at Sheboygan Falls High School through the FIRST High School Robotics Milwaukee Regional competition Wednesday March 23 through Saturday, March 26.

“After we held our kickoff event on January 8th and found out what this year’s regional competition would be, we split into four different teams within in the team, which are CAD design, programming, business and fabrication,” Nichols said. “Our first few meetings of the season focused on setting up a strategy and establishing a concept design for the robot.

“After that, the CAD team started the robot design process, the fabrication team worked on prototypes, the programming team focused on the establishing the base for our competitive strategy and the business team got to work on project management and team spirit tasks,” he said. “Overall, I think we have a great team. Everyone works well together and there is really no conflict among team members. To me, being a small team can help with team unity as sometimes with larger teams it is harder to get people focused on doing things and on task toward the overall team goal.”

Nichols says this year’s team has taken on an additional challenge with the implementation of an advanced robotics drive train system. 

“This year’s competition is called Rapid React and sponsored by The Boeing Company. We’ve decided to implement a swerve drive design, which is new for everyone this year. The swerve drive features an advanced robotics drive train with two axles of rotation.”

As in previous years, the RoboRiot team put its robot to the test at a scrimmage event at Sussex-Hamilton High School on Feb. 20, which the squad used as a tune up before entering regional competition. 

“We are used the scrimmage as driving and climbing practice for our robot,” Jordan Vang, Sheboygan Falls High School senior and CAD design captain said. “We also got a chance to do troubleshooting as it was the first time this robotic was driven in competition.”

“The scrimmage was a good opportunity to see how we stacked up against the competition that was there and gave us a chance to test and learn the new drive train for the robot,” Hannah Pratsch, Sheboygan Falls High School senior and programming team captain said. 

“Our main goal was to get a nice cargo chamber ready for our robot and learn as much as possible about playing offense and defense,” Kyleigh Parrish, Sheboygan Falls High School senior and business team captain said. “I’ve actually been pretty impressed with how the team has come together and everything we’ve gotten done as a group this year considering we really haven’t had a regular season for three years now and we have almost have the number of people on the team this year compared to three years ago. It is great to see effort everyone is putting in.”

According to Parrish and Pratsch, this year’s RoboRiot team has been active in spreading the word about the RoboRiot team and the sport of competitive robotics in an attempt to draw new members to the team in the future. 

“We have been doing some more outreach this year and I think the team is planning to do even more in the future to try to get more people involved,” Parrish said. “The bulk of the team is from Sheboygan Falls and it would be nice to have more support from the other schools in our area in the future.”

“Earlier this year, we went into STEM geometry classes to talk about robotics and what we do with the RoboRiot team,” Pratsch said. “We are hoping to get some younger kids involved.”

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