As far as Yellow Medicine East student Josh Hoernemann is concerned, robots are more fun than sports.
"I saw what a change it made and I see what it does for [other] kids,”  said one mentor.
“Some of them came in here and had no idea what they wanted to do,” he continued––and now here they stand as budding engineers.
"The whole idea is to demystify engineering," the mentor said. "If the kids are afraid of it, what are you going to do?"
The nine member YME robotics team goes by the name, “the Stingbots.” This past week, the lot competed in the annual MN FIRST Regional Robotics Competition in Duluth.
Before teams reach that level, however, they first had to brain storm and vet conceptual designs that can complete a task revealed to all at a kickoff event in early January.  This led to a mock up to flush out physical limitations and size specifications and collect enough money to pay their way.
"You get to do different stuff and learn different stuff every year," said senior James Trotter, a three-year veteran of the Stingbots.

Funding the future
FIRST, which stands, for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," was founded in 1989 and is based in Manchester, New Hampshire. A not-for-profit public charity, it is supported by a network of 3,500 corporate, educational, institutional, and individual sponsors and more than 130,000 volunteers, according to its website.
With four separate creative engineering competitions, with varying difficulty for preschoolers through high school seniors, FIRST has helped create more than $19 million in college scholarships for 2014 through nearly 900 scholarships from more than 150 scholarship providers.
Prize scholarship sponsors include Wayzata-based Pentair as well as the local Kiwanis Club and Jakes Pizza. In addition, the Minnesota West––Granite Falls Campus provided a lab and meeting space.

Lots of solutions
Outside of the local Minnesota West campus on a recent Saturday, students worked feverishly to get their robot ready by a Tuesday deadline cut short by the year’s superfluous amount of snow days.
From within the lab, two tables sat surrounded by students careful to meet design, build and utility specifications for the 150 pound robots provided six weeks in advance of competition’s end date. Meanwhile, programmer and Team Captain, Hoernemann, kept busy creating the computer code that would govern the robot’s actions from a small ancillary area awash in spare parts.
This year's robot features a small air compressor with several pressure controls––some preset and others triggered remotely by a laptop computer. Aiding in the process was Minnesota West Fluid Power Instructor, James Fischer, who made several consulting visits to the Robotics Lab and also gave students a tour of the school’s fluid power offerings.
 By the end of the six weeks, three air activated cylinders were installed capable of remotely controlling a ‘launch arm.’  The Stingbots next worked to orchestrate the four small electric motors to function in concert with the launcher.
By working on how to pick up, lift, hold and launch a ball, the students learn that single problem may have multiple solutions. In fact, Team Coach Andy Holt and mentors Paul Hoernemann and Barry Anderson were often puzzled as to the best next step––but the students always found a way to meet the deadline. In the end, they went home awardless but that isn’t to say they walked without being a little wiser.
For this year, FIRST reports that more than 350,000 students on 32,600 teams will compete in all of the opening rounds. In the high school robotics competition, 2,720 teams and 68,000 students have entered.