Power Up: Duluth Hopes to Foster Competitive Robotics Teams Throughout Sweden
Sister cities Duluth, Minnesota and Växjö, Sweden have for years exchanged college and high school students, professors, artists, professionals, and athletes. Now they can add one more category to the list: Robots.
Last summer, Linnea Frisk traveled all the way from her hometown of Duluth to the south-central Swedish city of Växjö with her family. There, the Minnesota high-schooler and captain of the Duluth East High Daredevils competitive robotics team reached out to a group of local students who were interested in building a robot.
“The daredevils started thinking about how we really wanted to start a team in another country and we started off with Sweden, because Växjö is one of our sister cities,” Frisk said in an interview with WDIO.
After returning to Minnesota, Frisk kept in close contact with the students she met from Teknikum Secondary School. In the fall, she and the other Daredevils sent the Swedish students their own kit for building a robot and gave them step-by-step instructions for programming it via video chat.
This is when the Växjö Vikings, the first competitive robotics team in all of Sweden, was born. By November of 2017, they had built their first robot and programmed it to knock down soda cans.
The Vikings travelled to Duluth early last month to compete in the Northern Lights Regional, a FIRST Robotics competition (FRC) held jointly with the Lake Superior Regional in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (or DECC).
The Double DECCer, as it is known, is the largest regional robotics competition in the country. According to Vikings team captain Rebecca Zeidlitz Retting, her team spent the winter months practicing for the competition with their beginner robot.
“It’s really an honor to be a part of this,” said Retting. “We couldn’t even imagine that this would happen to us, so we’re really excited.”
During their visit to Duluth March 5-11, the Vikings shadowed their American counterparts at Duluth East High School, enjoyed a pool party, and prepared for the competition. Retting told WDIO in the days leading up to the competition that her team was looking forward to competing with a newer, more advanced robot, and were rapidly trying to get the hang of it.
Competitors in this year’s FRC were asked to forge alliances with other teams and work together to outperform their rivals in a challenge called “Power Up,” which is based on a retro-style arcade game.
The Vikings walked away at the end of the weekend with a Rookie Inspiration award. The Daredevils advanced to the FIRST Championship, and brought Vikings team captain Retting along with them after she expressed a desire to see it.
The University of Minnesota in Duluth had for a long time hosted students from Växjö as part of an exchange program with the university there. Since becoming sister cities in 1987, the scope of the relationship has increased dramatically.
After learning of Växjö’s distinction as the “Greenest City in Europe,” Duluth and its Canadian sister city Thunder Bay launched the “Climate Idols” project to bring families together to try to reduce their carbon footprints. The exchange of tech professionals inspired Duluth to create a technology district downtown. An annual soccer exchange from 1999 became such a huge success that it was spun out into its own nonprofit organization (the Duluth-Växjö Soccer exchange).
Katherine LaFleur with Duluth Sister Cities International (DSCI) said she was thrilled to see the initiative that Linnea Frisk and her fellow Daredevils took in expanding the size and scope of their city’s connection to Sweden. She added that DSCI hopes to aid the Daredevils in their quest to promote FIRST robotics to other schools in and around Växjö, “so that the Vikings do not remain the sole robotics team in Sweden.”
“We really believe in the transformative nature of these exchanges: Taking strangers and making very close and longstanding friendships,” said LaFleur. “This exchange seems to have proven that point.”