A 2017 Centennial High School graduate and his teammates took their robotics skills to the first-ever Land Land O'Lakes Bot Shot competition April 7 at DeLaSalle High School for a chance to win $10,000 and shoot around with basketball legends David Robinson and Christian Laettner.
Lino Lakes resident Matt Tlachac is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where he is majoring in computer science. He is specializing in robotics and artificial intelligence and pursuing a math minor.
Tlachac first became interested in robotics while he was in high school through the First Robotics program. “It was a huge influence for me,” he said. “I saw a demonstration from the high school team of their 100-pound, solid metal, 4-foot-tall robot that was all made from scratch, and that really interested me.”
He was on the robotics team all four years of high school and has continued to be involved in robotics during his college career. Although the University of Minnesota has multiple robotics groups, Tlachac decided on Go FIRST Robotics, which has since been rebranded as University of Minnesota Robotics.
As a member of that organization, he participates in competitive build projects, mentors high school teams, volunteers at regional events and facilitates workshops for students at the university.
At the recent Bot Shot competition, Tlachac and his teammates were required to build a robot to compete in a skills challenge and game of “horse”. University of Minnesota's team was up against teams from Purdue University, University of Wisconsin-Madison and South Dakota State University.
Tlachac said that of all the other robots, the one his team constructed was the only one that used a camera for vision tracking to the backboard. “Many of the teams had a way to adjust the angle of the shot as well as the speed the ball was shot at, but the mechanisms we used to do that were different.”
South Dakota State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison tied for the title of Land O’Lakes Bot Shot Champions. Even though they didn't win the competition, Tlachac said he is proud of how their robot did.
“We could have been hitting a few more shots and there were a few factors, some within our control and some not, that affected our accuracy in the end, but I am really proud of what we accomplished,” he said.
Tlachac has now turned his focus to a robot for the NASA Robotic Mining Competition in May. His team will compete with a robot that digs a material that simulates the surface of Mars. Earlier this year, he also participated in a challenge in which he had 72 hours to build a robot.
Tlachac said his plan is to graduate in May 2020. He has not yet decided whether to pursue grad school or enter the robotics industry. His hope is to eventually land his dream job, to work with a cutting-edge robotics company such as Boston Dynamics.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.