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Building better Bombatrons: Barnum students prep for contest at DECC

Barnum Bombatron team members Ava Hammitt (left) and Gus Lembke work inspect their robot before a scrimmage in Grand Rapids. (Photo by Skylar Newman)1 / 3
Barnum Bombatron team members (from left) James Johnson, Murry Salzer and Sam Cloutier discuss the best way to program the drive system in their robot. (Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal)2 / 3
Thomas Koski (center), Alec Sparks (left) and Ava Hammit search through the Barnum Bombatrons tool chest for the right bolts to attach their robot's bumpers. (Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal)3 / 3

The computer lab at Barnum High School was a hurricane of activity after school Thursday, Feb. 28, with the school's robotics team working to get itself ready for their creation's first competition this week.

The Bombatrons, as they are known in competition, have already "bagged" their robot for competition. They are perfecting their driving system, fitting bumpers and even discussing how their flag will look at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Regional Competition from Wednesday, March 6, to Saturday, March 9, at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Like many engineers, the students also worked on a backup robot so they can continue to tweak the code and practice controlling their creation. The current robot is similar to last year's version. The team made the same tweaks to their old robot so they could continue to practice driving it and work on cosmetic parts — like the padded bumpers on the edges — after they were forced to stop work on the one that will be used at the DECC.

The team tried out the competition robot at a scrimmage Feb. 17 at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids. While the team didn't try out the climbing mechanism, eighth-grader Gabby Ostby was happy with the way the team performed.

"Overall, we did really well with what we wanted to do," she said.

The robot's climbing system is a pneumatic system, using air pressure to lift the machine to the next step. As part of this year's game all the robots will play, "Deep Space," the machines will need to negotiate a set of stairs as one of the ways to score points.

Programmer Sam Cloutier believes they've got the system down, but it was among the most difficult challenges he's faced in the four years of robotics at Barnum. He's enjoyed the process, though, and has accomplished things he never expected.

"I learned a lot," Cloutier said. "Also, I have a blast driving the bot. It's insane. Programming a robot to drive — that's something I never thought I'd do."

The team has also grown over the four years of its existence from just 10 members the first year to 25 in 2019. The growth has allowed more ideas to be incorporated into the robot's design, which has made it stronger each year, according to adviser Evan Lembke, the Barnum technology integration specialist.

"Our first year, it was basically just a box," Lembke said. "But it just keeps getting bigger and better every year."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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