Building the future

After an abrupt end to their season last year, the CF Robotics Team is excited to compete virtually this year.


Teagan Strecker

This year, the CF Robotics Team is only allowed to compete with one robot, but they are building another one for practice.

For six years, the Cannon Falls Robotics Team has participated in the FIRST Competition, which challenges teams of students to design, build, and program their own robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of opponents; this year, however, the competition looks a bit different. Every year, there is a different theme with unique tasks, but the goal is the same — to immerse young students in real-world engineering experiences. A regular season includes a kickoff at the beginning of January with competitions starting the first week of March. 

Last year, the Cannon Falls team, Bomb-Botz, launched the competition season by semi-finalling at the March 4-7 Lake Superior Regional event in Duluth, MN. Two weeks later, Cannon Falls Schools stopped in-person classes and switched to distance learning for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. The FIRST season was put on hold as well, eventually being canceled altogether. 


This year, FIRST decided to do virtual at-home competitions with the same game as last year; Infinite Recharge requires robots to pick up balls, shoot them into a target, and latch onto a teetering bar to pull themselves off the ground. While the virtual challenges this year do not include climbing or a traditional multi-robot match, they do challenge teams to be innovative, hardworking, and hands-on. 

The season is split into two parts, with the Game Design and Judged Awards Challenges running from kickoff to March 4, and the Skills Competition Challenges running until April 8. After a third of the team graduated last year, the significantly younger and slightly smaller team is working hard to complete them all.

The Game Design Challenge, led by Captains Samuel Coyle, Ethan White, and Mathew Giese, challenges teams to design a game, or theme, for a FIRST season. The Cannon Falls Bomb-Botz designed a game named “FIRST Dive,” where two submarines (opposing alliances each made up of three robot teams) are battling to survive by picking up and shooting balls (called fuel cells), picking up and placing or pushing blocks (torpedos), and pulling on a chain (to deploy the periscope). 

The Judged Awards Challenge, led by Captains Teagan Strecker and Isaiah Wildenberg, judges teams on the features and abilities of their Infinite Recharge Robot from last year. The submission includes multiple pictures of the robot’s features, a flyer to describe or highlight the robot’s features, and a video of the robot performing an autonomous routine. After much trial and error, as well as some time spent fixing damage endured last year during the Lake Superior Regional, both submissions were successfully submitted.

Now, the Bomb-Botz are working on the Skills Competition, led by Captain Sydney Specht, which challenges a robot’s ability to both autonomously and teleoperationaly pick up balls, shoot balls from various distances, and drive through a course. The team is tweaking and smoothing out kinks in the robot’s mechanics and code to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible for the filming of the challenges before April 8. 

One of the challenges that comes with robotics, is there is one competition robot and around 20  team members. It can be difficult for everyone to get a chance to work hands-on with the robot, so a group of younger team members has taken up the task of building a second robot this year. After building the frame and drivetrain, the group started experimenting with pneumatics and CAD to build first a catapult, and now a turret. While their robot can’t be entered into the competition, the group says they are having fun and learning a lot for future robot builds.

After a disappointing end to last year’s season, the 6217 Cannon Falls Bomb-Botz FIRST Robotics Team is once again innovating and engineering together, working on the Game Design, Judged Awards, and Skills Competition challenges, as well as a second robot. They have prevailed despite the restrictions, and with less than a month of the competition season left, are working hard to finish strong.