4-H robotics team seeks members, sponsors

By Elizabeth Sias

A new robot-building season is fast approaching, and Isanti County 4-H’s very own team Teens ‘Nto Technology (TNT) is not only looking for sponsors, but new members and mentors as well.

Duct Tape with his builders, Karl Zabinski, Nik Zabinski, Danny Hermanson, Chris Fragale and Andrew Diers.

The team formed in December 2010, just in time to compete in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) regional competition in March in Duluth as FIRST Team #3840.

As an individual team, they placed 17th out of 40 teams in their first season. Once again, they’ll have six weeks beginning in January to build a robot, which will then contend against robots of other teams to complete an objective.

For instance, the task this year was to build a robot that could hang inner tubes on an array of pegs.

The team consists of high school students in 9th through 12th grade, and they also mentor a group of kids in grades 4 through 8 who work on the robot with them and learn from the team and its mentors.

For TNT, team member Karl Zabinski said, they enjoy build season, but he stressed that becoming a member is a huge time commitment.

“The build season for us, in addition to the competition, is a fun time, a learning experience, but it’s stressful, so we need people who are mature and who can focus on a task,” he said. “That’s not to scare people away — we want to share with everybody our learning and we need as much brainpower as we can get.”

FIRST is an educational nonprofit whose objective is to inspire high school students to pursue careers in science and technology. TNT member Andrew Diers said he plans to go into  mechanical or computer engineering, and Zabinski said he’s considering a military career with a technical aspect.

In the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), teams of 5 or more students are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand, hone teamwork skills and build and program a robot to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors, all with limited resources and time constraints.

Andrew Diers, Karl Zabinski, and Nik Zabinski work out autonomous calculations.

TNT’s goal is to raise $7,000 this year. A large part of that goes toward the FIRST registration fee, which pays for a robot starter kit including a computer, electronics and more.

They visited some of their sponsors from last year and so far all of them are interested in sponsoring the team again.

“It’s obvious that people in the community are interested and excited about giving high schoolers a learning experience,” Zabinski said. “We really haven’t had something like this in Isanti County before.”

The team is also selling LED light bulbs for $15 each. Diers said the mercury-free bulbs are twice as efficient as fluorescent bulbs and will last around nine years if used three hours a day. The bulbs are also virtually indestructible, which Diers demonstrated by smacking one against the floor.

Along with sponsors and new members, the team is looking for mentors as guides and to teach team members new skills.

Teamwork and commitment were the biggest challenges for them last year, Zabinski said, but TNT strives to reach their mission of fostering opportunities to learn life skills such as communication, leadership and perseverance.

“If you’ve got what it takes, it’s a great experience and you won’t regret it,” Zabinski said.

For information on joining, call the 4-H Extension Office at 763-689-1810. For more information on the team and sponsorships, visit www.team3840.org. For more information on FIRST, visit www.usfirst.org.