Durant Mechanicats robotics team earns Innovate award

DURANT, Iowa–For the second year in a row, the Durant High School Mechanicats robotics team has advanced to the superqualifers, the second round of competition in the FIRST Tech Challenge. The team also earned the Collins Aerospace Innovate Award for the first time, highlighting the inventiveness of the robot they created this year.

For the past six years, the Mechanicats have competed in the FIRST Tech Challenge. Throughout each school week, students come in before and after school, as well as during any study halls they may have, to work on designing, building, and coding a robot capable of performing specific tasks. This year, students had to design a robot able to shoot disks into a variety of different goals.

For the first half of the school year, students enter their robot into five league events against other teams in their region. After each event, students make adjustments to their robot in preparation for the league tournament. The top 12 teams ranked by several criteria then proceed on to the superqualifers tournament with the possibility of advancing on to the state and world competitions as well.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all FIRST Tech Challenge events have taken place virtually this year. While students have not had the opportunity to travel to other schools and compete head to head, they still get to showcase their skills by running trials with their robots at their own school and submitting their results to competition officials.

Based on several unique components of their robot, the Mechanicats earned the Collins Aerospace Innovate Award, which honors one team at each league tournament and allows them to advance to the superqualifiers. Joey Kramer, the team’s advisor and a math teacher at Durant High School, explained how the team’s creativity led them to take home this award. “The reason we moved on is in part because of their implementation of a code-based solution that regulated the voltage running to the flywheels and in part because of the 3D-printer-designed parts that allowed them to pick up disks from the ground and bring them up to the flywheels to throw into goals.”

In reflecting on the team’s success in their first official round of competition, Kramer felt proud of their progress so far. “I think they did really well!” he enthused. “They came up with some really interesting solutions to problems they ran into over the course of the season.”

Kramer also reported that the students on the team felt pleased about receiving the Collins Aerospace Innovate Award, especially considering the size of their team. “They were pretty surprised to have received the Innovate Award, but it showed that they thought outside the box,” said Kramer. “The fact that we’re from a small town with less funding than other schools means we have to be a bit more inventive to compete at the same level.”