THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. – Northland Community and Technical College’s Robotics Team, XNOR, won the Amaze Award at the VEX Robotics World Championship Tournament held at the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville Kentucky on April 15-18th. This is the largest robotics competition in the world with over 800 teams and 15,000 participants. In fact with nearly 100 VEX robotics teams throughout the state, Northland brought home Minnesota’s first VEX Trophy from the VEX Robotics World Championship Tournament.
Each year VEX robotics teams design, build, and program a robot to compete in a new challenge. This year’s challenge, Skyrise, consisted of plastic cubes and stacking yellow pegs. To score points the robot stack yellow pegs one at a time onto a base which forms a Skyrise tower up to 62” tall. Robots can also score points by lifting the hollow cubes over the Skyrise tower and additional posts located around the field. Although this may seem like a trivial task, participating in the VEX Robotics Competition is a great training grounds for future engineers and technicians. Each team operates like a small engineering business. They are tasked with a technical problem which must adhere to specific regulations and constraints. In addition teams need to consider budgets, time, and overall project management. On the technical side students are focused on mechanical designs, electronics, sensors, navigation, programming, and troubleshooting. The time and energy invested in the VEX Robotics Competition prepares students for technical careers.
The XNORs competed against 54 teams from all over the world including New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Bahrain, Spain, Brazil, Lebanon, Puerto Rico, Canada and the United States. Most of the university division teams represent 4 year engineering programs. XNOR team members demonstrated first-class sportsmanship throughout the competition. The XNOR team enjoyed talking to the other teams. Their conversations dived deep into the technical details about robots as well asinquires about culture and education. As the tournament progressed, people from all over the world and of all ages stopped by to visit the XNOR team and ask questions about the robot. Many people shared compliments and asked questions about the robots design or performance. Some with similar lifting mechanisms were impressed by the construction, performance and overall size of the XNOR’s robot. Throughout the tournament the XNORs freely shared technical details and a few spare parts to help out others.
In the qualification rounds the XNORs played 10 matches and earned a 5th place ranking. The XNORs won 8 matches, tied one match, and lost one match against team AURA from Auckland New Zealand. Team UTTU4 from Hidalgo Mexico was able to tie against the XNORs in a memorable match. UTTU4 had technical difficulties at the start of the match which lead XNOR to start scoring point for UTTU4. This is a common practice in the VEX Robotics Competition. During qualification rounds teams are awarded win points (2 points for a win, 1 for a tie, and 0 for a loss). Win points are the first category used to determine rank. When teams have the same win points, strength of schedule points (SPs) are used to determine rank. If the final score of a match is 30 to 60 all teams receive 30 SPs. These SPs are added up for all of the qualification matches. Higher SPs indicate stronger competition. Back to the UTTU4 vs. XNOR match. While XNOR was trying to increase their SPs (and ranking) by scoring points for UTTU4, the Mexican team resolved their technical problems and quickly got to work scoring their own points. With 15 seconds left in the match team XNOR realized UTTU4 was taking the lead and abruptly abandoned their game strategy. At the end of the match a sinking feeling came over the XNOR team members. When the referees revealed the score was 53 to 53 the XNORs were a disappointed. After a brief cool down period, Nick Radeke resolved, “a tie is better than a loss… we have to give credit to UTTU4 for mustering a strong comeback.” Team XNOR went over to visit the UTTU4 team after the match. Over a friendly exchange both teams shook it off and posed for a group photo.
With a 5th place rank in the qualification matches, the XNORs were well poised to enter the elimination bracket. Over a boisterous crowd exchanging chants of USA and Mexico the XNORs faced off against THH2, another team from Hidalgo Mexico. The XNORs advanced by winning a single match 75 to 21. Entering the quarterfinal rounds teams need to win two out of three matches. In quarterfinal matches 2.1 and 2.2 XNOR swept the UTEZ2 from Morelos Mexico with scores of 61 to 67, and 63 to 74 respectively. XNOR advanced to the semifinals. This time the XNORs faced a superstar team from Auckland New Zealand, AURA. “These guys played impressive matches scoring over 100 points… We knew we needed to try something different,” Nic Skinner continued, “We felt our best chance was to change our program to play defense by knocking down a pile of cubes in front of their robot.” Nic reprogrammed the robot to do just that, but it in the end it didn’t matter. AURA won both semifinal matches with scores of 102 to 44 and 88 to 43. AURA was so good Peter Tydlacka insists, “about the only way we could beat them would be to program our robot to disconnect their battery.” The XNOR crew offered congratulations to AURA, wished them luck in the final rounds, and posed for this selfie.
In addition to the main tournament bracket the XNOR team performed well in the programming skills challenge. Prior to this tournament the XNOR team had put up the highest programming skills score in the world with 36 points. Programming skills are a one minute challenge with one team scoring as many points as possible on a regulation field. During programming skills the robot operates entirely in autonomous mode without remote control or any human interaction. The XNORs worked hard to prepare for worlds and it paid off with a score of 57 points. However, AURA scored 64 points in programmingskills. “Second place in the world for programming skills isn’t too bad,” comments Andrew Dahlen, XNOR’s coach and NCTC Electronics Technology and Automated Systems instructor.
The XNORs were very happy with their performance at the tournament. Evidently so were the judges. In a VEX Robotics Tournaments there are a handful of awards assessed and issued by panel of judges. These are professional engineers and industry technicians which volunteer at the tournament. Northlands Robotics Team earned the Amaze Award. According to VEX Robotics,
“The Amaze Award is presented to a team that has built a competition robot that clearly demonstrated overall quality. A solid Mechanical design along with demonstrated robot programming, robustness, strong performance and consistency are key attributes assessed for this award.”
This is the third year NCTC has participated in the World VEX Robotics Competition and the first year they have won an award. Additionally, this award is Minnesota’s first VEX Trophy from the VEX Robotics World Championship Tournament to date. “Each year the team is acquiring more knowledge, skills and passion for this competition,” says Andrew Dahlen. As a two year college there is going to be rapid turnover as team members finish school and start their careers. The alumni of NCTC’s robotics team were integral in laying out the foundation for our team. This year the XNOR team members worked very well together. “Each team member played an instrumental part in the design, build, programming and performance of the robot,” said Robert Fay, President of the Robotics Club. “Looking back on the season, it was great to watch the guys so serious about the robot competition all the while sharing a unique synergy and sense of humor,” offered Andrew Dahlen.
All the members of Team XNOR are students in the Electronics Technology Automated Systems Program at Northland Community and Technical College. These students are also employed by Digi-Key Electronics based in Thief River Falls, MN. The XNORs are supported as an NCTC StudentClub. The XNORs are also sponsored by the 360° Manufacturing and Applied Engineering Center of Excellence and Central Boiler.