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Rapid Acceleration headed to the big leagues of robotics competitions

Updated: Apr. 18, 2022 at 7:53 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - In high school, there are clubs and organizations for just about every interest from sports to theater, even robotics.

Rapid Acceleration is a FIRST Robotics Team in Rapid City and this week they’re headed to the Worlds Championship in Houston.

“We build robots,” said Kiley Plooster, the head mentor for Rapid Acceleration.

As simple as it sounds, that’s precisely what Rapid Acceleration does, build robots. Their skills are being put to the test this week at the FIRST championship against hundreds of other teams.

What do the FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology - competitions entail?

“After we get the challenge every year, we sit down and figure out, what do we want our robot to do?” continued Plooster. “We don’t really go through the how of what we want it to do, just what do we want it to do.”

This year’s challenge? To collect and throw oversized tennis balls into a goal.

“And then our climber, we have two pretty basic hooks where one hooks on one rung,” said Gretchen Noble, Rapid Acceleration’s team captian. “We climb, get off the ground and then extend to the other hook and release from the first rung.”

Climb, collect, throw. Seems simple enough right?

Rapid Acceleration and the other competing teams have 6 weeks to design their robots and then 6 weeks to compete at regionals for a spot in the Worlds.

This year, Rapid Acceleration created Merlin, who clinched them two regional awards and a ticket to the big leagues.

An excitement team captain Gretchen wasn’t even able to put into words, “We actually went to worlds my freshman year as well and we’ve qualified all four years but because of COVID this is only our second time going in those four years. I went my freshman year, it was an incredible experience. I can explain it to people but until you really go and experience the community of this program, it’s so hard to visualize.”

The championship begins Wednesday and runs through Friday.

For Gretchen and another senior on the team, the opportunity to be part of Rapid Acceleration helped them determine their career goals.

“I committed to the School of Mines for mechanical engineering, which that’s both from school and the team,’ said Gretchen. “A lot of influence from them.”

“This program really helped me kind of direct my ideas toward pursuing a career in mechanical engineering,” said Luke Degen, Merlin’s main driver. “So I’m headed off to SDSU next year for mechanical engineering and this program really helped me experience the different aspects of engineering and design.”

Rapid Acceleration is open to anyone in the surrounding area, even people without an interest in engineering.

There are options for elementary and middle school students as well.

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