After a successful season last year, Watertown-Mayer’s Brotherhood of Steel robotics team is getting ready for the next one. With experience and a few new members, the team has just started getting together to practice their craft and make plans for the season ahead.

“We’re just starting up pre-season,” said Jeremy Bosquez, one the coaches for the Brotherhood. “There are some new members that are joining, and we need to make sure they know what they’re getting themselves into.”

What are the new members getting into? It turns out, quite a lot. Robotics teams aren’t just about building a cool machine. There’s programming, testing, marketing, strategizing, communications, engineering, and more. The students are given the choice of what they’d like to do, but also pushed to try something new. For example, if there are already a lot of engineers, then perhaps a new student will be taught some engineering tricks but also be part of the strategy team when it comes to the competition.

Speaking of the competition, this year’s game is the same as last year’s. This means there are three parts. The first is a 15 second segment where the robot runs an obstacle course on its own. This means programmers have to layout commands for the course before it actually happens, having the bot turn and adjust based entirely off automatic commands. The second is a 2 minute and 30 second game wherein the robots grab rings that open hatches for balls to go through. And finally, the robots get 15 seconds to climb up a platform, with more points being given the higher the climb.

For now, the team is preparing for a mini-regional at Prior Lake High School on November 23. Because the game is roughly the same as last year, this gives teams a pretty unique opportunity to improve designs. For example, the Brotherhood has decided to invest in pneumatics for their robot as compared to last year’s motor system. While it only saves a few seconds for grabbing the rings, in a short game a few seconds can actually mean a big difference.

Big enough that the students notice and get excited, according to Bosquez.

“Once the pneumatics were installed, they just kept opening and closing them until they ran out of air,” he said. “They kept saying ‘look how fast this is!’”

There are a few other quirks to work out before competition. When Bosquez said “practice”, he meant it. One of the challenges presented last year, he noted, was driving. The robots were driven with two Xbox controllers, one for the wheels and turning and the other for the grabbing mechanism. What turned out to be a challenge was learning how to drive the robot, which is a three-by-three square of metal with something built on top. The team is also planning to install new wheels to help with turning, which was previously done by slowing down one side and speeding up the other. The hope is with more practice, the students will have a better grasp on maneuvering through the competitions to come.

“Having a good robot is a small part of the game it turns out,” said Bosquez. “Being good with that robot is the bigger part.”

Part of the plan now is also marketing. Marketing never really stops for robotics teams as they try to organize fundraisers, put together and design merchandise, and keeping in contact with possible sponsors. The Brotherhood of Steel, like all robotics teams, needs the help of the community to help stay afloat, as parts and going to competitions aren’t completely covered by the activities fund at the school. Instead, sponsors get the chance to be featured in some part of the robot or as a part of the merchandise.

One fundraiser the team is working on is through Custom Ink, a custom T-shirt design website. T-shirts will be sold throughout the month of November, so be sure to follow https://twitter.com/roboticswm?lang=en for when the link is up and running.

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