Rise of the machines: Robots shoot hoops
MINNEAPOLIS — The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers
have nothing on the Robo Runners or Lightning Turtles.
Wait, the who?
Those were just two of the more than 60 teams competing at Rebound Rumble, a
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics
competition in which teams build robots designed to shoot foam basketballs at
hoops. High school teams from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Tennessee
participated in this weekend’s regional event held on the University of
Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena, which typically host Golden Gophers hockey
and basketball, housed sweet-shooting machines (think more Mars Rover than, say,
While basketball games are typically played between two teams, the Rebound
Rumble pits two alliances against each other. Each alliance is made up of three
robots from three different teams. Those robots attempt to score on four
baskets of differing heights during a two-minute, 15-second period. Each basket
counts for varying point totals, depending on the height of the basket.
Not all of the Robot Rumble participants play basketball, but they know how to
build robots that do.
“I guarantee you, if you said play a real basketball game (with robots),
the kids here could do it,” said Wesley Sandholm, a senior at Tartan High
School in Oakdale, Minn. “They could build something that would do
Teams have six weeks to build their robots, and they’re designed entirely by
high school students. Just like in the NBA, there’s a lengthy rulebook — about
50 to 60 pages — that says what teams can and can’t do while working on their
“The rulebook is pretty sizable,” Sandholm said.
Each team has mentors — many of whom work in the engineering field for
companies such as 3M, Pentair and NASA — but the mentors are hands-off when it
comes to building the robots. They’re mainly there for support.
“They do it on their own time,” said Rachel Hoke, also a Tartan High
School senior. “They’re not getting (paid). They’re volunteering, and
Bruce Newendorp is an engineering mentor for the Swartdogs, a team from Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. His team was the most veteran group at this weekend’s regional
event, having been together since 1999. Some of the Swartdogs’ previous members
came back to help out at the event this weekend.
From the time the objective of the Rebound Rumble was announced on Jan. 7, the
Swartdogs spent countless hours working on their robot.
“Our team meets essentially every day for that six weeks, every evening,
every weekend,” Newendorp said. “We take two days off, and that’s the
nights before finals. Otherwise we have a meeting every day. It’s very intense
to get this built in six weeks.”
For the first 15 seconds of each match, the robots must operate independently
of the drivers. After that, members of each team control their robots, working
with the other two teams in their alliance to score as many baskets as
possible. Some robots are designed specifically to score on only one height of a
hoop, while others shoot from longer range, capable of scoring on any hoop.
During Saturday’s finals, the lights were dimmed at Williams Arena except for
those shining on the center court. Fans filled the lower-level seats, cheering
as each team was announced before the games. Team flags were waved before the
match as mascots ran up and down the sidelines to pump up the crowd.
The competitors on the court may have been made of metal, but the Rumble was
just as intense as any other big-time basketball game — minus the trash
“It is amazing how much teams help each other out and work together,”
Hoke said. “I think that’s one of the big things that I really like about
this competition — you’re not alone in a competition. It’s not, ‘Oh, what can
we do to knock out (the other team)?’ You’re working together and having this
Added Newendorp: “It’s a competition, but you want everybody to win.”
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