The planet may be fake but the skills needed to work with it aren't.

The Plaid Pillagers robotics team at Morris Area High School completed its robot to compete in an upcoming regional contest March 13-16 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The team competes again March 27-30.

About six weeks ago, the team received the contest scenario which described the setting and the tasks the robot would need to perform.

The team would need to operate its robot on a fictional planet. The robot will need to manuever on three platform levels. The robot will need to load hatches on a cart and on a rocket which are on the fictional planet.

"There will be a sand storm where we can't see the robot," Michael Romberger aid. Robot operators will need to direct the robot without visually seeing it or the robot can operate autnomously.

Either option wouldn't happen without the weeks of building and programming the robot.

Team members design and construct the intricate system of wires, batteries, hydraulics and other features of the robot. The robot doesn't look like a creature or a hulking piece of machinery. It's built on a cart which is a few feet long and couple feet wide. It's nearly square in shape with needed pieces set and stacked in orderly fashion.

Romberger said about 100 wires connect the robot's operating system.

The system won't work unless it's been programmed. Mara DeRung spent most of the six weeks programming the computer codes that are used to operate the robot.

A computer code is needed, for example, so that when the driver moves his joystick in a certain direction, the robot moves in the corresponding and accurate direction.

The team has faced contest challenges before but, this year, DeRung and Romberger said, the team is also dealing with the weather.

Students have lost preparation time because school has been called off. Despite that, "we've had a lot of driver's practice this year. We've had more time practicing with the drivers," Romberger said.

A contest challenge this year is getting the robot to climb at a higher elevation than in prior years. The robotics team designed the robot for a higher climb this year.

"Last year we had a different climbing mechanism," DeRung said.

"This time, we are pushing ourselves up," Romberger said.

The robot can extend four post-like appendages. It will push upward from the two rear appendages toward the two front appendages as it tilts. The back appendages continue to extend while the front legs also extend. Momentum propels the back end of the robot onto the platform. When the back end is on, the driver moves the rest of the robot to the top of the platform.

The robot was recently completed and it can't be touched until the March 13-17 regional competition.

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