By Starrla Cray
KANSAS CITY, MO Blades spin. Metal crumples. A wheel pops free.
These sights are commonplace at the robotics competitions where 1987 Delano High School graduate James Jorgenson competes.
His team at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis took second place in the National Robotics League competition June 21-23 in Kansas City, MO.
“We battled teams from Pennsylvania, Arizona, and all over America,” Jorgenson said. “It was so much fun to meet all those people.”
During the competitions, high school and college students use their electrical engineering, drafting, mechanical, and machining skills to create a remote-controlled robot. The 15-pound wheeled machines compete against each other in an arena with clear walls.
Whichever robot destroys the other one first wins the battle. The driver may also call a “tap-out” to forfeit the match if his or her robot is about to be destroyed.
“It’s fun to watch,” Jorgenson said.
His team used a robot named “Rugburn.”
“We call it Rugburn because the horizontal spinner is a half inch off the ground,” Jorgenson explained. The five-pound 6,000 RPM spinning blade is especially adept at taking off tires on other robots.
“There was one team that we took all four wheels off,” he said. “They couldn’t move, so we won.”
A good robot is only part of the equation, however.
“A skilled driver, I think, is the most important part,” Jorgenson said. “You need to know when to attack, and when to sit back.”
In between battles, teams have 20 minutes to put their robots back together.
“It’s pretty intense,” Jorgenson said. “You have to understand all aspects of it.”
Everyone on the team works together to fix the robot, but “we each have our own specialties,” Jorgenson said. His favorite part is soldering and troubleshooting.
“You fight, and you learn from that battle what went wrong,” he said.
Jorgenson’s team has revised Rugburn’s electrical system five or six times so far.
“The robot was designed and made entirely at Dunwoody,” he said.
A robot from John Glenn Middle School in Maplewood called “Uppercut” also uses a spinning blade, but it is vertical.
“When it hits you, it throws you up to the ceiling,” Jorgenson said. This way, robots take damage from the initial hit, from the ceiling, and from the crash back to the floor.
Uppercut won first place at the Midwest Regional Competition in May at the Mall of America. Rugburn received second place, and both teams qualified for nationals.
At the national competition, Uppercut received fourth place. “Sam Clam” from Williams High School in Williams, AZ, received first place, and third place went to “Atomic Shock” from Plum High School in Saltsburg, PA.
For Jorgenson, the robotics competitions have brought his learning to life.
“At school, all your class work is out of a book,” he said. “With the robot, not only do you draw it, but you also build it and get to see it function.”
More about Jorgenson
Before going to Dunwoody, Jorgenson had been a process specialist at Hutchinson Technology. He was one of the roughly 900 people at the company to be laid off at the start of 2009.
“I decided to take the opportunity to go back to school,” Jorgenson said. He chose Dunwoody because of its reputation and lifetime job placement program. This fall, he’ll be starting his second year of Dunwoody’s engineering drafting and design technology program.
Jorgenson’s father owned a machine shop, and he grew up doing hands-on work. Now, he is learning to combine his knowledge with computer design.
“Many products are tested and designed on the computer before they’re ever put into production,” Jorgenson said.
Jorgenson, who lives in Lester Prairie with his wife, Ann, and 14-year-old daughter, Kathryn, said he’s excited to explore career possibilities in engineering drafting and design technology.
“It’s a wide open industry,” he said.
To learn more about the robotics competitions, and to see photos and videos of robots, go to www.gonrl.org.