BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Gemini made an encore appearance at the Elliott Test Kitchen Tuesday night.
The robotic team member of the Fort Madison Cyberhounds helped the team to a strong finish at last year’s FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics regional competition in Sedalia, Missouri.
Despite the broken arm, the unit took a defensive posture at the direction of its high school programmers and reigned havoc on the competition as the five-year old club missed the semifinals at the competition by one point. But the team was also awarded the Team Spirit award at the competition.
But it’s back to the proverbial drawing board for the 2019-2020 CyberHounds as they start a campaign to build on last year’s success. The club began five years ago, but had their first competition in 2018 in Cedar Falls where they finished 61st of 61 teams.
To do that, the group needs funding and professional support.
Led by spokesperson Shyannah Hoenig, the group pitched about 30 people in attendance on how much the Cyberhounds rely on community support for their success. Test Kitchen founder Kumar Wickramasingha provides facility support and mentorship, along with a smorgasbord of appetizers for the pitch.
Hoenig put up a tongue-in-cheek chart that showed the support the football program gets from the schools, but how the Cyberhounds face uphill battles when it comes to fundraising, travel, and awareness.
The team of 24 is made up of programmers, builders, fundraisers, and public relations.
Teacher sponsor Shalisse Johnstun said there are some on the team that don’t know a thing about programming but are on the team to help learn, and gain experience in, other functions including the fundraising and community outreach.
Hoenig said a lot of the programs competing at the regional and national level are sponsored by larger school budgets and boast sponsors from national and international companies.
The competition involves a reveal where teams go to Cedar Falls to hear what tasks their robots this year will have to accomplish. After that, which takes place the first Saturday in January, the group sets out getting their kit, constructing their entry, and the battling it out at competitions around the Midwest.
In 2019 the Cyberhounds competed in just one event at a cost of about $11,000, but this year they are hoping to compete in two and build on last year’s success. The cost is estimated at more than $18,000.
‘It’s a very expensive sport we’re involved in so we just need more money to be able to do that,” Hoenig said.
“Other teams are sponsored by NASA and Boeing and these huge things and our first year we walked around with Phil’s Pub on our shirt and we were grateful of it. The point is we walked into this competition and expected to have a level playing field and this guy has NASA down his sleeve.”
She said the group buys things at garage sales and and relies on donations of supplies, tools, knowledge, and expertise.
She said the one plus is that the Booster Club provides meals for the football team but the Cyberhounds get food from Kumar.
She said the group needs $5,000 turned in by Nov. 18 to be registered as a team for the competition.
The Central Missouri First competition will be held April 2-5 in Sedalia.
Sponsorships are available for the Club and on the robot from $100 all the way to $5,000.
Nathanial Harter said the club relies on getting the community and industries involved to help Cyberhounds grow.
“First, we need your expertise, we’re still babies compared to everyone else in experience. Secondly, material help. Huffman’s gave us a lot of materials last year and that was extremely helpful. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are at.”
He said after-school mentoring is also needed with programming expertise, and any old or new tools. He said transportation is also an issue and students can’t ride in a vehicle pulling a trailer, but a trailer would be helpful in getting equipment and supplies to the competition site.
Harter said robot materials can cost up to $4,000 and that doesn’t include parts they get with registration. He said lodging costs were about $2,500. He said a second competition will have a registration of $4,000, but the lodging could be more expensive.