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Menahga robot visits school board meeting

Robotics team members who brought their robot to the Menahga School Board meeting Tuesday were Mason Palmer, Zach Urvig, Jon Kicker, Dylan Urvig, Jack Christofferson and Tater Butler. 1 / 2
Menahga School Board members Katie Howard and Durwin Tomperi watched Team Gigabots’ robot move to a position. The team has worked on the robot for two weeks so far, achieving “driveable” status just minutes before their debut before the board. Photos by Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise. 2 / 2

Members of the Menahga Gigabots robotics team were excited to show their robot to the school board Tuesday night. They are considered a rookie team and are mentored by Toby and Nichole Weston.

Work on the robot started two weeks ago after receiving their parts about five days late. The team has 13 members, 12 boys and one girl in grades 9 through 12. There is one senior on the team. This means next year's team will have experience to build on, which Nichole said will be a big asset.

She explained that the team's strategy is for everyone to "play from their strengths." Students choose whether they want to code, build or wire.

On Feb. 16, the team will go to "Zero Week" in Nevis to practice. The robot will be bagged Feb. 19 until the March competition in Duluth.

Toby Weston explained the first function of the robot is to drive. "We were successful getting it to drive tonight just 15 minutes before the board meeting," he said. The second function is to go up on platforms.

Components in this year's "Deep Space" competition involve a hatch cover and cargo rocketship. "We're going to build a mechanism on this scissor lift to grab this hatch cover, drive it over and put it on one of three levels," Toby said. "We have to go as high as 6 feet 3 inches and as low as 19 inches."

Plans are still underway for the rest of the challenge. "We're taking one function at a time," he said. "This is a cram course and very intense. We're working six days a week on this thing. These guys have been great coming up with ideas."

Startup for the team came from funds that were donated to the prior team as well as donations from 3M and other local businesses and organizations.

"In order to keep this team going and be able to do some extra things with the robots, we're in need of some more money," Toby said.

He asked if the school could help or if any board members know community members or businesses who might support their team.

The initial kit robotics kit cost around $3,000 and includes the platform, electronics and computer. Teams are allowed to add up to $5,000 in enhancements.

He said while as a rookie team they won't be able to do as much this year, he wants to plant the seed for next year.

Nichole said they are waiting to hear about a grant from TEAM Industries in Park Rapids. TEAM members are also going around the community in search of donations.

Toby said he estimates the team will need $1,000 to $1,5000 this year for additional components.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen asked Toby to give the board a list of their needs. "We can look at those and see how we can fit them into the budget," he said. "This is a school activity and we will support it, but just like with any other program, we need to know what you need, and we'll let you know what we can do for you."

He also encouraged the group to continue to work on obtaining private donations and to use the shop equipment at the school.

Nichole said Toby is an airport mechanic who can weld aluminum, which saves the district money.

"It looks like the team has a really good start," board chair Andrea Haverinen said.

"As a rookie team, if you are able to present a robot that's able to function and move that's a win," Toby said. "Just to be able to do that in a couple of weeks, I really tip my hat to this team. I couldn't be more proud of them, and am excited to watch this team build in the future. These kids will have a step up in their careers and great opportunities ahead."

"It's exciting to see where you're starting, and I know where you're going," Haverinen said. "I've seen the Nevis robots at the school board conference."

"We're hoping some of the younger students will join and I'd like to get some more girls, too," Nichole said. "It's just as important for them to be involved."

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