DERT moves on to nationals

Adam Larck
The Dunlap Eagles Robotics Team poses with their Regional award and Team Spirit award they received at Purdue.

On March 14, the Dunlap Eagles Robots Team saw their robot again after sending it to the Regional competition in Purdue, Ind., in February.

While the team ran into multiple problems on the way, they were able to win their first Regionals ever, and will advance to the national competition in St. Louis April 27.

Regional recap

When the team got to Purdue University March 14, they expected to run their robot through a few practice rounds to prepare for the seeding matches the next day.

Instead, the team spent the day rebuilding the robot to allow it to qualify for the competition.

“We had a lot of trials, a lot of obstacles to overcome,” advisor Gordon Mills said. “When we got there, we found out that there were several things that our robot did not meet the specifications to compete. So, the first day, while other teams were practicing, we spent pretty much the entire first day rebuilding our robot and making changes so that it qualified. So from the start, we were behind the eight ball.”

Kyle Ernst, who is part of the mechanical team, said that two of the engines on the robot were not allowed in the competition, which had to be replaced.

Another problem with the robot was the amount of weight the robot had. The team solved that problem by removing the miniature robot that was going to be deployed at the end of the round.

When the team finally got to the seeding matches, Ernst said most matches did one of two things.

“Most of the times, either the robot worked well and we were with a bad alliance and lot anyway, or it didn’t work,” he said. “We had battery failures and electrical problems, but we were with a good alliance.”

While the seeding matches went on, the public relations team, led by Alison Chen, tried to promote the team to the other teams competing.

“The way most teams do it is they watch the qualification matches,” Chen said.

She added that if teams are interested, they come and ask questions about a team’s robot.

At the end of the seeding matches, DERT was ranked 32. However, Peoria Notre Dame’s team saw the potential DERT’s robot had.

“When it came time for the teams to choose alliances, Icarus, Notre Dame’s team, they were ranked No. 1,” Mills said. “During the selection process, they did recognize what our robot was capable of with its maneuverability, and they selected us to work defense and prevent the other teams from scoring.

“When it came down to the final match, it made a huge difference. There was a robot there that was very good at scoring, but we were able to limit them to only scoring six points. That other team was probably averaging 30 points a game before that. So, we effectively did our job of shutting them down so that Icarus and our other alliance, Cyber Blue, were able to score unhindered and not have to worry about playing catch-up.”

Ernst said the robot was able to block well because of the mecanum drive the robot uses. A mecanum drive is a wheel with smaller angled wheels that let the robot strife side-to-side, as well as moving forward and backward.

Besides winning the Regional title, DERT also won the Team Spirit Award for the third year in a row. Mills said that they are one of the few Illinois teams that go to the competition, so they always cheer the other Illinois teams on.

“It didn’t have to be our team that we were cheering,” Chen said. “We encouraged other teams, especially teams that we knew were struggling. We’d cheer them on.”

Preparing for Nationals

As soon as the Regionals were done, the team had to watch their robot be shipped away again. This time to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for the National competition.

“None of the teams could take their robots home,” Mills said. “They are allowed to do more work. We have a certain withholding allowance you’re allowed to keep back. You’re allowed to work on the robot in the pits.”

The team is currently working on putting the miniature robot back on the main robot, along with a few other things.

Ernst said that a piece that holds the motor broke during the competition. The team is working on a new piece now to replace the old piece, which had to be secured with resin and a zip tie.

Mills added that a few changes are being made to the arm as well. Currently, the 3D-modeling team is drawing out where the new pieces will need to go when the team arrives April 27.

After arriving at St. Louis, the team will be able to uncrate the robot and work on it that night and Thursday morning before seeding matches start that afternoon.

“They have four fields at the Edward Jones Dome,” Mills said. “So, four different competitions will go on at once. They’ll take the winners from those divisions and they’ll be competing for the national championship. It’s going to be a wild and crazy time.”

The game at Nationals will be the same as the one played during Regionals.

A new problem arises

While the mechanical team works on the robot, a bigger problem looms over the entire team: fundraising.

“Probably the biggest obstacle we have right now will be fundraising,” Mills said. “Everything we budgeted was geared towards going towards Regionals. Now, we have nationals in St. Louis and we’re finding out that costs are a little more when we go to St. Louis. We’re scrambling right now trying to figure out where money will come from and what kind of fundraisers we can do.”

Mills said that the team has about four weeks to raise around $12,000. Currently, Chen’s team will be in charge of trying to find ways to raise the money.

“At the moment, it will cost about $400 per person to go,” Chen said. “It’s a little crazy. After winning such a big thing, only about 150 teams in the nation get to go. We finally make it, and now we may not be able to go. So we are going to fundraise like mad, and hopefully Dunlap will have our backs.”

The team has a fundraiser planned at Mickie’s Pizzeria in Dunlap from 4:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday. During that evening, 20 percent of all bills will go to the team. In addition to this, DERT jewelry will be available for purchase, and a 50/50 raffle will be offered.

The team is also working on trying to do a similar fundraiser at Culver’s.

Mills said that one of the big sources of money for the Regional competition, the sponsors, were unable to help with the cost of nationals. Most of the companies have a limited amount of money that was used to help the team with Regionals.