Derby focuses on robotics

FAIRMONT – “The Robotic Invasion” took over this year’s North Star District Klondike Derby on Saturday.

The annual winter event held at Cedar Point Scout Camp south of Fairmont brought in Boy Scout troops from throughout the area, and spent the day building and programming robots that were supposed to follow a black line – if programmed correctly. Scouts from as far as Redwood Falls and Apple Valley attended.

“They’re very enthusiastic,” said Rob Swanson, district executive for the scouts. “It’s a very unique thing. We’ve got scouts from fifth-grade to 18 years old, and we have about 60 scouts and 43 adults here for the event.”

This is the first year the Klondike Derby has focused on robotics, thanks in part to a donation of robotics kits from 3M.

“The kids love robotics and the technology,” Swanson said. “They’re earning a merit badge with this one-day class, and we’ve had speakers come in and talk about careers available in robotics.”

“3M donated about $5,000, which is about 12 of the kits for the council,” said Brian Hendricks, a systems engineer at 3M and also an assistant scout leader for Troop 56 in Fairmont.

While most of the robotics kits were supplied by 3M, scout leaders and some individual scouts supplied their own laptops to help program the robots.

“The robots they’re designing have sensors that follow a black line, and for the competition, they’re going to be racing,” Swanson said.

However during the testing, simply getting the robots to follow the path correctly proved to be a challenge.

“Have many of them made that hairpin turn yet?” one scout leader asked as another robot got turned around and off the path trying to take a 45-degree turn.

While most of the scouts were eager in getting their robots to correctly follow the path and compete, others were simply happy to be able to go outside. Klondike Derby sled races were held, and others could be seen building snow forts, having snow golf tournaments and engaging in snowball fights.

“Last year, they had so much fun here,” said Rich Billion, scout master for Troop 298 out of Apple Valley. “We were looking for a winter campout, and they demanded to come back here. The hospitality here is great.”