My son and his robotics team win BIG

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My son, now a high-school sophomore, has a lengthy history of one-upping the old man.

When I was his age, I listened to John Williams’ “Star Wars” soundtracks but could not play them. I was terrible at music lessons and never really mastered a musical instrument.

My son, also a nerd, does not just listen to the Imperial March from “The Empire Strikes Back” but effortlessly belts it out – among others, like “Fiddler on the Roof” – on a violin.

When I was young, I devoured science-fiction novels featuring robots. My son? He builds robots.

In fact, my son and his fellow robot builders at Central High School have pulled off quite a feat: Their MinuteBots team placed second in a regional competition at the University of Minnesota, which qualifies them for an upcoming national competition in St. Louis.

Now, since the MinuteBots blew their budget on their champion robot, they’re crowdfunding the trip. Look for the GoFundMe widget on the upper-right corner of this site, or read on for more information — plus video and audio.

The robotics team’s feat is kind of a big deal because Central is an inner-city school with limited resources. The MinuteBots are a relatively new crew, too.

“This is extraordinary because this year was just the second year that the team existed,” Kathy Kittel, St. Paul Public Schools career and technical education program manager, is quoted as saying in a press release. “Last year’s robot barely had a working drive train.”

Here’s the MinuteBots story in the team’s own words.

MinuteBots coach John Lavik was interviewed on WCCO Radio:

WCCO interviewed me at a different time:

I talked about the MinuteBots on the Minnov8 Gang Podcast:

Here, in a video shot and edited by a MinuteBots team member, is what these robotics competitions are like.

I watched the MinuteBots in action last Saturday, and thought they were (insert Darth Vader voice here) impressive … most impressive. Their robot isn’t all that flashy compared to some of the more-elaborate ones I saw at the event, but appearances can be deceiving.

Robots at the tournament had to manipulate an exercise ball, pass it to other robots, and get it through a low goal or a high goal. The low-to-the-ground, scuttling MinuteBots robot performed like a champ. I recorded one MinuteBots routine (it’s not the best one, my wife assures me):

See MinuteBots photos here and here. The team is on Google+.

Now the MinuteBots face another challenge: Raising the cash they need for the trip to St. Louis, with some money left over to bootstrap next year’s robotics effort.

Their sponsor, 3M, has taken care of the $5,000 tournament application fee, but the team needs another $10,000 for travel expenses, plus $5,000 to ensure the school can compete next year.

Keep in mind this is an inner-city school that isn’t flush with cash. The students blew their limited budget on robot components, so now they’re stuck.

Will you consider contributing to their effort? The MinuteBots have set up a crowdfunding site, which makes donating a snap.

You can also send a contribution to MinuteBot Boosters at Anchor Bank at 1570 Concordia Avenue, St Paul, MN 55104, attn: Josh Lepp.

2014 MinuteBots at regionals

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I’m Julio Ojeda-Zapata, a nerd, boricua and tech writer living in St. Paul, Minn. This is my personal site.
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