Trostad is cautiously optimistic; team will know more after the weekend.

    The Crookston High School Robotics Team should know after this weekend whether or not they've advanced to the Minnesota State High School League Tournament for Robotics.

    Coach/teacher Chris Trostad is cautiously optimistic, after the team's excellent showing at the Northern Lights Regional Tournament in Duluth earlier this month. After several other teams from across the state compete in the last round of regionals in the Twin Cities this weekend, the CHS team, comprised of Ethan Hegge, Brady Larson, Richard Barnes and Justin Burgoz, will know where they stand.

    In Duluth, the CHS team's robot, known as #3056, was ranked #1 out of 47 teams after the preliminary rounds. Each team competes 10 times, which takes a day and a half, Trostad said. After the preliminary rounds, as the top seed, the CHS team was able to have its pick of teams to build its "alliance" with for later rounds of competition.

    "It was kind of cool that we were able to pick team #876, of Northwood, North Dakota, because they mentored Brian Follette and myself when we started this," Trostad said.

    The CHS team won its first qualifying match in a best of three competition and then lost in the semifinals. Had they won, they would have earned a berth in the World Championships in St. Louis, Trostad said.

    After many more teams compete at the next regional tournament this weekend in Minneapolis, the MSHSL will select the top 30 teams based on rank, highest alliance and elimination wins. "We should rank really high in all three areas," Trostad said. "Many teams come from other states (to the regional tournaments) so that actually helps us because they will be discarded when the MSHSL selects the top 30 teams to compete."

    The state championships are May 18 at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities.

Lots of time, work and help
    Trostad said the strides made by the CHS Robotics Team since its inception wouldn't have been possible if not for the expert guidance of John Normandin, an Information Technology student at the University of Minnesota Crookston and Mike Schliep, a software engineer at UMC who's pursuing his Ph.D. at the U of M, Twin Cities campus. "They spend a lot of time on this with us," Trostad said. "UMC has been a real good partner for us. We couldn't do it otherwise."

    Normandin and Schliep have led the CHS robotics students through numerous lessons on building a better robot via interactive-TV, Trostad said. "They really help the kids through the programming, through Java," he said.

    In Trostad's classroom are two heavy-duty plastic tubs that, when they first arrived, were a mass of complex parts, small and large, many of which look like they could be assembled into an automotive engine. Each tub costs around $5,000, something the CHS Robotics Team could never afford.

    That's where Pentair, Inc. of Golden Valley, Minn. comes especially in handy, Trostad said. "They fund robotics teams that wouldn't be able to afford the cost of building a robot and competing," he said. Locally, Trostad added, businesses like Dee, Inc., Best Used Trucks, SunOpta, Titan Machinery and Crookston Implement also sponsor the robot. Some of the local money raised helps purchase smaller, less elaborate robot kits so Trostad's younger students who aren't on the robotics team can construct their own robots and hone their skills.

    "We're always looking for any businesses or individuals who'd maybe like to help us out," he said.

    On Jan. 4, robotics teams get their "challenge" and they can start working on their robots. On Feb. 17, Trostad said, they're ordered to cease work on their electronic creations.

    At the regional competition in Duluth, robot #3056 had to operate for 15 seconds in autonomous mode, meaning it was essentially doing its own thing while looking through a camera. At various times on its own and during the two minutes that the students were in control, robot #3056 had to grab a Frisbee and toss it, scale a tower and suspend itself.

    Getting a machine to do all that is no small feat, Trostad said, and doesn't happen overnight. "It's every night after school for hours, on weekends and holidays," he said. "It's really impossible to put too many hours in. It's not easy to figure out how to make a machine pick up a Frisbee and throw it."