A devastating storm just moved through the area.
Power lines are down.
The grid needs to be restored. That is the scenario students at Northwestern High School in Mellette were given more than two months ago by the Boosting Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) Robotics organization. The challenge was to build a robot that could restore power and clear debris.
“The whole point of the robot is to send it where linemen cannot go,” Wildcat Inc. team president and head of marketing Hailey Boekelheide said.
The Northwestern team, known as Wildcat Inc., made a robot that not only accomplished the mission but was one of the best in the region. The Northwestern robot had the second-highest cumulative score at the BEST Robotics competition at South Dakota State University in October. Wildcat Inc. then took the robot to compete on a national level at the BEST Robotics competition in Denver in December. The Northwestern robot took second place in the exhibit and interview category and team member Hailey Boekelheide was the recipient of the Kendrick Castillo Memorial Award for her leadership, mentorship, and community involvement with the robotics program.
Northern Electric Cooperative was one of the team’s sponsors for the trip to Colorado.
“We built this robot from the ground up,” Wildcat Inc. co-engineer Mitchell VanderWal said.
BEST Robotics gives middle and high school students at more than 850 schools across the country different scenarios every fall. Those students have six weeks to create a robot that can accomplish all the goals of the scenario within three minutes. Schools compete to see which robot is the best at local, regional, and national competitions.
“Students are given a bunch of different tasks and then you tailor your robot to that,” Jessica Boekelheide, a member of the Wildcat Inc. marketing team said.
This year, power restoration was the scenario. Wildcat Inc. designed a robot that reconnected transmission lines, and distribution power lines, and cleared debris from the field. Safety was the goal of their project because their research showed that being a power line worker is one of the top 15 most dangerous jobs in the country.
“Can I make a robot that works and can do what linemen can’t do in dire situations?” VanderWal said about the team’s challenge. “If we have automated robots, they can help prevent linemen injuries.”
Wildcat Inc. isn’t just made up of students interested in science and technology. Nearly 40 percent of the Northwestern High School student body has been involved in the project. The team had to develop a marketing presentation for the robot, keep an engineering notebook, and students even created custom team T-shirts in the school’s print shop. The students focused on the main theme of the challenge throughout all aspects of the project.
“We were able to talk about the dangers of linemen’s work,” Hailey Boekelheide said.
Members of the team say the opportunity to take the Wildcat Inc. robot to the Denver BEST Regional Championship in December motivated students to elevate the project to the next level.
“It goes from I want to win to how much further can I get past just winning,” Wildcat Inc. lead programmer Eric Nelson said.
Members of the team hope their success this year will promote robotics to underclassmen and show them that the team needs students with several different skills to achieve the goals of the project.
“Literally anyone can find anything they are good at in here (robotics),” VanderWal said.
And, bringing out the talents of each student is the ultimate goal of the program.