Mitkof Middle School robotics team member, Heidi Brantuas, shows a model of an AML warehouse to the Petersburg School Board at the board’s regular meeting. Team member, Torey Fry, explains the project at the podium. (Photo by Mara Lutomski)

Mitkof Middle School’s robotics team in Petersburg won first place in a category at a regional tournament in Juneau and will be heading on to a state competition in Anchorage. KFSK’s Angela Denning has more:

The regional tournament was held in Juneau and it lasted all day long.

“I’m pretty sure it lasted for around eight hours so when we got there it was dark and when we left it was also dark,” said Nolan Lutomski, a 7th grader in the team. “It was kind of intense as well because I was just kind of nervous I saw all the other teams and they had like their big robots.”

Building robots and programming them to complete different missions is one part of the competition. The other part is called “innovative project” and Petersburg’s team took first place in that category. It requires students to identify a problem, research the problem, and then address it by designing technology or improving an existing one.

The theme this year was “Cargo Connect”, which included students investigating possible cargo issues in their own community. The Petersburg team looked at cargo coming into Petersburg, which is 95 percent by barge.

“We were pretty confident in our innovative project because we thought that we did a really good job  and it was a real thing that’s impacting our community,” said Lutomski.

The students toured the local Alaska Marine Lines grounds and a tug boat. Through the process they discovered inefficiency:  the same dock is used for loading and unloading. So, the team focused on how to fix that problem and decided that adding platforms and access doors to the warehouse would help.

A few team members presented their solution to the school board at the board’s last regular meeting. The students also used a slide show and a model to give a visual of their project.

Heidi Brantuas showed the board a model of a warehouse, illustrating the change.

“We have two options, which are concrete or steel,” she said. “And these would be placed like so.”

“So these are the proposed doors?” asked a school board member.

“Yeah, the proposed doors,” Brantuas said. “[AML] had planned to put a door in the back but we proposed the door on the sides and the platforms where they had the idea to put ramps.”

“I love it,” said school board member, Megan Litster. “I can’t wait to hear if they get to modify their building.”

This screen shows the table of possible missions that Lego robots can accomplish through programming by student robotics teams. The table is full of obstacles and requires precision in the robot’s movements. (Image courtesy of Mara Lutomski)

The robotics club is mainly student run. Petersburg has two coaches, Beau Ward and Cyndy Fry and their main job is to support the team process. Fry says the judges at the regional tournament had positive comments about the students.

“Their innovative project they did just exceptional, that’s what the judges kept saying, like that was amazing, they did great,” Fry said. “They were very respectful, they were able to articulate extremely well and present their ideas clearly. They just did absolutely fantastic.”

There was no in-person regional tournament last year because of the COVID pandemic. This year’s competition was the first one Lutomski had ever seen and he says it was worth the trip.

“It was a lot of fun and we definitely learned a lot since we had no really coding background at all before this and we got to do it and we learned a lot about coding and robots,” Lutomski said.

The state middle school robotics tournament is February 5 in Anchorage. Lutomski says he hopes the team can work on their programming between now and then to be even more prepared for that part of the competition.