A day in the life of Cloquet Ripsaw robotics


February 25, 2022

Lydia Stone

Sophomores Edward Stone and Josh Bleskacek test their ideas for a shooter mechanism early in the season.

Build Season - a defined period of time, typically 6-8 weeks, between Kickoff and Competition that sparks excitement, fear, and urgency to all FIRST Robotics team members. Will we have enough time? Do we have enough funds? Do we have the right talent, skill, ambition? Will it all come together? Currently, Cloquet's Ripsaw Robotics team is in the middle of build season, with high ambitions for the upcoming competitions.

FIRST Robotics Competition is a worldwide organization consisting of 4,000 teams from around the world. In January, teams are challenged to build a robot capable of competing in the given field and game design. After this point, organized chaos ensues.

Our Cloquet Ripsaw Robotics team is in full swing as we prepare for the Lake Superior Regional Competition March 4-5. With money, robots, coding, and management on our minds, every practice is meaningful and packed full with excitement. We practice everyday after school in Cloquet High School's new computer, fabrication, and wood shop. It does not look like a typical "practice" that you might imagine with hockey, soccer, basketball or other team sports. Many contrasting parts all work together to reach the same goal: continuous improvement, growth, leadership, professionalism. And yes, a fabulous, functioning robot.

At this point in the year, after four weeks of build season, the separate fabrication teams are now beginning working together. Build captain Jake Mertz supervises and teaches as the aluminum structure of the robot comes together. CAD and design team members oversee cuts, angles and dimensions to ensure the robot moves as planned, while other build members assemble gearboxes, construct field components, and attach bumpers.

"I am feeling hesitantly hopeful," Mertz said, regarding his outlook for the competition.

The mechanisms the build team is focusing their time on are the intake, climb and drive train. The drive train is arguably the most important aspect of the robot, as it serves as the base for a functioning bot. The climb and intake, however, are the point winners in competition; with these mechanisms, our robot will take in balls, shoot them into the low and high hoops, and climb "monkey bars" at the end of the match.

"We're making reasonable progress on our robot and it should be mostly functional," said Mertz, with his typical air of modest caution.

Next door, in the computer lab, coding captain Edward Stone teaches new members the coding language Java. With Rome Robots, online material and lots of practice, new members become acquainted with the language. In the next few weeks, they are tasked with coding the robot to move in sync with the controller, and travel autonomously during a 15-second time period at the beginning of each match. This step is crucial in the robotics world, and these members feel the pressure:

"Now that the robot is constructed, we need to spend a lot of time debugging our code. Otherwise, if something goes wrong during competition, there goes a lot of points, especially ranking points," said Stone. "Yeah, there's a lot of pressure."

While the build and coding teams focused on constructing a working robot, the logistics team filled the critical roles of sponsorships, safety, community outreach, apparel and team management.

In the art room next door, team members write thank-you cards, call businesses, write grants, take pictures and more, depending on their point of interest. With competition coming up, it is crucial that funds, busing and other logistical aspects are in order for a smooth ride.

Team members prepare the team safety manual and brainstorm ideas to make safety a priority. Currently, they are gathering materials for competition, including battery-spill and first-aid kits. Sponsorship members work together to write out finishing touches on grant applications and cement our relationships with this year's sponsors. Those working on team apparel email back and forth with clothing companies, and others take pictures, make buttons, design the team pit structure, and organize many Google sheets. Fellow senior captain Olivia Jameson and I carry out team management functions and work with new logistics members. Together, the logistics team works on behind-the-scenes necessities to ensure competitive success.

Scattered throughout the practice are the less visible but immensely important team mentors and coach. These adults use their experience to create a safe learning environment for everyone.

Ripsaw coach Cheyenne Deters carries the responsibility of 30-plus team members, communicates with parents, coordinates practice areas, guides team management and more. Beside her stand the team mentors: James Price, Al Woodward, Greg Wostrel and Jer Baert, and other supportive parents.

"The program is student-led, and the mentors are there to provide guidance as [the students] learn," Deters said.

Lydia Stone

Junior Lauren Johnson and sophomore Grace Lavan measure bumper sides against the robot frame on Feb. 2.

As shown, many moving parts go into a robotics team; the organized chaos of a typical day's practice is demanding, but carries with it an air of fun, excitement and learning. This hard work will lead up to the Lake Superior Regional Competition, where 60-plus teams will compete together. Hopefully, our tradition of a successful regional competition is carried through this year and the future.

And, in the words of coach Deters, Cloquet's Ripsaw Robotics team is flourishing: "This program is growing, and we love watching as the kids learn and discover."

Columnist Lydia Stone is a former Pine Knot News summer intern and the co-captain of the logistics team for Cloquet robotics. She asks any readers who would like to sponsor, mentor or learn more about the team to please visit ripsawrobotics7797.com or email [email protected].


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