Employee Feature – Matt deFreese

April 7, 2022

Students competing at Robotic Competition

Students competing at Robotic Competition

At Royal, we know our employees have lives outside of work and we are proud to see them being leaders in our communities. Our Volunteer Time-Off program provides paid time off for employees to go live out their passions.

We caught up with Automation Engineering Manager, Matt deFreese, ahead of his trip to a national high-school robotics competition. Matt also happens to be the head coach for the Holdrege Duster Robotics Club.

What happens at a robotics competition?

Vex Robotics reveals a new game each year, so the robots are custom-built to meet the requirements for the game. This year, the game is called Tipping Point and involves a pair of teeter-totter ramps, tree-like goals, and purple rings.  The robots have specifications they have to meet to be allowed to compete, including size and component limitations.

How do teams compete in Tipping Point?

Teams compete in a series of three events, Judging, Skills and Match Play, and score points by completing specific tasks within the allotted time. Completing tasks faster leads to bonus points. The tasks consist of actions like moving and manipulating objects and balancing their robot.

Can you give a little more detail on the three events?

Sure! In Judging, each team meets with judges and explains their robot, the process for building the robot and any learnings from the process. Each team also submits their engineering notebook for the judges to review. In Skills, each team is given 6 chances to complete the game alone on the field, 3 chances with a driver controlling the robot and 3 with the robot acting autonomously. Match Play is a head-to-head tournament play that puts four robots are on the field at the same time in a 2v2 random pairing. There can be up to 12 qualification matches and the highest win scores from the qualification rounds advance to the finals.

How did the team qualify for the national competition?

The team qualified by winning the Tournament Championship award in a 3-state tournament in December. Our 3-state region combines teams from Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

How did you get connected to the Holdrege Robotics Team?

My son, Daniel, wanted to join the team when he was a 7th grader. He joined and I started helping with the team.  That was 8 years ago.  The assistant coach retired in 2016, so I became an assistant coach. The head coach retired after last year, so this is my first year as the head coach for the team.

Could you provide a brief overview of what you do at Royal?

I manage the new automation team. We are working to design, test and build systems to augment our current processes with automated solutions.

How do you balance coaching the team with a full-time career?

We meet every Tuesday and Thursday night for build and practice time. I enjoy working with the team to brainstorm ideas, build test rigs and finally put everything together into a competition robot. The fun I get to have with the kids tends to help recharge me after a long or stressful day at work. Royal’s VTO (Volunteer Time-Off) program also helps by providing me with paid time off to take the team to nationals this year.

What fundamentals are the students learning that would apply to your job?

The scientific method is stressed with the team at every practice. What is the plan for tonight? Get it done, check if it works, then act accordingly (make a new plan or move on).

How can someone learn more about the Holdrege robotics team, or follow your competition at nationals?

The CREATE World Championship competition will be live-streamed from April 7th – 9th. There will be teams from over 14 states competing.


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