Truckee High School freshman Isabelle Wogsland and her brother Lance, a senior, spent significant time this past fall and winter designing, building, testing, reflecting, rethinking, redesigning, recreating, and recoding Roberto, their robot. They are two of a four-member robotics team that also includes high school students Kathryn Lopez and Sophie Simonds. They call themselves Perpetual Motion, and “it should work, in theory,” is their motto. 

It reflects the “combining of innovative ideas with the rules and restraints of the real world to create a solution to a problem that is realistic and functional,” wrote Isabelle in an email. “This helps to narrow down solutions or components of the robot that we need, and, in the end, to have a piece that is more likely to work than one just made with knowledge of theory.”

TESTING GROUNDS: Lance, left, and Isabelle, right, kneel in their game field where they tested their robot, Roberto. Isabella was responsible for designing the arm that places pixels along a backboard. Photo by Tiffany Connolly/Moonshine Ink

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Their hard work recently paid off — they were in the fourth-placed alliance, with each alliance consisting of three teams, at the March First Tech Challenge Robotics Competition. The team gained entry by beating out approximately 60 Nevada teams in several meets, and then placing in the top 12 at the subsequent First League Tournament. The top two teams from the state competition will go on to the world competition in Houston, which will take place April 17 to 20 this year. 

Perpetual Motion is a small team compared to some of its competitors, like VC Circuits, which is based in Virginia City. “They have 12 people and spent a bunch of money on their robot,” said Lance. While VC Circuits might have an advantage, they also served as mentors to Perpetual Motion throughout the season. The two teams shared parts and ideas, engaging in what they call “coopertition.”

“To our team, this means competing with each other in the spirit of cooperation, where everyone wants other teams to succeed. Therefore, teams are always happy to lend a hand, advice, and parts to other teams,” wrote the Perpetual Motion team in an engineering portfolio, which tracked the progress of their robot build.

ROBOT REPAIR: Isabelle and Sophie (left to right) repair their robot. Courtesy photo

The Perpetual Motion robotics studio is a large room above the Wogsland family’s garage in Kingvale. It is meticulously organized and contains display boards, photographs, prototypes, and a playing field that mimics the game floor they encountered at the competition.

Every year, the gameplay, or rules of the competition, change. This year, the robot was required to complete several tasks: operate using only pre-programmed instructions, place pixels, or discs, strategically along a backdrop, be controlled by a human operator, suspend itself from an overhead rigging, and launch a “drone” into a landing zone. The Perpetual Motion’s drone is designed as a small airplane and endured several revisions. “We went through 11 different renditions of it,” said Lance. 

He added, “Each [game] match is two minutes and 30 seconds. The first 30 seconds is an autonomous period where all you’re allowed to do is click go on a driver station. Then the robot has to do everything itself.” 

Roberto is capable of moving horizontally and vertically in quick, lurching motions. Engineering components include suspension design, the airplane launcher, a “hand” that picks up pixels, and more. Isabelle was responsible for the wiring, the hand, and the suspension. Lance used Fusion 360, an engineering software program, to design and 3D print the various components and prototypes to make their robot complete the required tasks. Kathryn is the team’s outreach specialist and game field designer, and Sophie helps with fundraising and volunteers at robotics meets. 

While one end of the Perpetual Motion studio is dedicated to their robot, the other is a ballet practice space. A large mirror covers one wall, a barre running its length. Isabelle, Lance, and their teammate Kathryn starred in Truckee High School’s The Nutcracker Suite this past winter, a performance that allowed the team to engage in outreach, a First robotics competition requirement that comes with its own award. 

To satisfy the outreach component, Perpetual Motion sponsored The Nutcracker Suite, and at the event, they sold 3D-printed ballerinas and earrings, raising funds to build their robot. They also hosted an Intro to Lego Robots workshop and taught coding to two Girl Scout troops. Their efforts secured them the Northern Nevada League Tournament Connect Award. 

“And so that’s more than 700 people that were exposed to our team and to First, which was a gigantic outreach and fundraising [effort]. I think that’s a big reason we got the Connect Award,” said Isabelle. “We also won the Think Award, which is the second-highest award that you can get.”

The Think Award is given to the team that effectively demonstrates their journey through the engineering design process during the build season, outlining difficulties and lessons learned, for example.

“You have to make an engineering portfolio where you document all of your coding and all of your designing and the evolution of your designs. And then you give this to the judges; you present yourself and your team, your robot, what it does, and they judge you to see if you’re a fit for the award,” Isabelle said. 

“Basically, how I think of it is that half of the competition is on what your robot does and how it performs. The other half is what you have done,” Lance added.

Woven into the First robotics competition is the tenet of “gracious professionalism,” which all teams must demonstrate. The idea is that more learning can take place through healthy, friendly, kind, and supportive competition.

ROBERTO in the ring on the game field during a match. Courtesy photo

“We build people up and teach them what we know because then they get better. And then when they get better, we have to get better. So, teaching others is a way of pushing ourselves to be the best we can,” Isabelle said. 

Perpetual Motion received grants from the Truckee Rotary, the Truckee Optimist Club, and the Gene Haas Foundation. They are looking forward to seeing what their robot will have to perform at the next competition. 

Those interested in supporting Perpetual Motions with a donation can do so here.

Author

  • Tiffany Connolly

    Tiffany Connolly joined Moonshine Ink in 2023, six years after leaving her teaching career to focus on writing. She owns a small marketing business in Truckee and is thrilled to be writing stories that make an impact. Tiffany holds a bachelor's in art history from UCLA and master's in education from Pepperdine University. She loves fast and flowy mountain bike trails and movie nights with her family.

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