Competition builds robots — and careers
TRAVERSE CITY — The region’s high school robotics teams will soon showcase months of hard work at the Traverse City FIRST Robotics District competition. Potential employers will be watching.
Traverse City Central High School will host 39 robotics teams as they compete head-to-head in the organization’s annual district competition April 7-9. But victory is only part of the robotics competition offered by FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. For many students, it is the first taste of a career in technology or engineering.
“Kids that join the robotics teams get to try on all of these different types of careers and see what fits the best,” said Gail Alpert, president of FIRST Robotics in Michigan. “They get exposure to mechanical, electrical, programming and even advertising work, so they can decide what they’re passionate about before college.”
The national program was founded in 1989 to encourage students to pursue careers in fields like science, technology, engineering and math. Its audience since has grown larger, its robots more sophisticated and its network more diverse, Alpert said.
The organization offers $25 million in scholarships nationwide and provides participating students with connections to a host of information technology and engineering internships. The competition has gained the attention of employers like Consumers Energy, DTE Energy, Steelcase, Whirlpool, Google, Microsoft and most recently Quicken Loans, Alpert said.
“The early supporters in Michigan were largely from the automotive industry, but everybody has started to see the benefits,” she said. “We’re not only growing mechanical and manufacturing engineers, we’re also growing programmers and IT workers. Companies today don’t function without those.”
Each team has at least 10 high school students and at least two adult mentors with experience in the field.
“It’s the engineers that work side by side with the teams that make the program what it is,” Alpert said. “You cannot be successful without dedicated mentors.”
The competition does not require students to have experience, though some high school teams have their own interview process, Alpert said.
“You kind of see kids all over the spectrum,” she said.
“There’s kids whose parents are engineers that push them into doing this, and there’s kids that haven’t been exposed to engineering at all that see a whole new world.”
Teams compete in threes, which allows senior members to mentor those who are new or less experienced.
“The first year a lot of students are taking it all in, because it’s hard work,” Alpert said. “But as we expose them to all kinds of innovations, it’s like a light goes on in them and they think, ‘Wow, I could build that too.’”
Alpert said participation among schools in the Grand Traverse Area has grown tremendously over the last few years after FIRST received a $3 million grant from the Michigan Department of Education in 2013.
“We’ve gotten so many teens from that area,” she said.
“The grant made the competition more accessible to all kinds of rural schools.”
A handful of teams from less populated areas like Mackinac Island and Leland will compete for the first time this year at the Traverse City District Competition.
Visit www.firstinmichigan.org for more information about the organization and competing teams.
JOHANNESBURG-LEWISTON 2017-18 ROBOTICS TEAM
Congratulations to the robotics team, The Army of Sum! On Friday and Saturday they competed in the Alpena Regional event. The Army finished the competition ranking 18th & was chosen for a finals alliance—the first time in 5 years! They advanced all the way to quarter finals & due to the Army’s infectious spirit, cute bot bugs & killer dance moves, brought home the Imagery Award, a Safety Award & a Superstar Award! Well done, Army of Sum!
John Michael Lortet was awarded the Star of the Day - Proactive Safety Approach on 4/6/18
J-L Robotics was chosen for the Finals Alliance!
JOHANNESBURG-LEWISTON 2017-18 ROBOTICS TEAM
Gaylord hosts 40 school teams in district robotics competition
GAYLORD — Gaylord High School hosted 40 robotics teams for the FIRST Robotics district competition Friday and Saturday, turning the school gym into a robot obstacle course for the second time. The host Devil Bots ranked 11th overall but fell during the semifinals with its alliance team.
Angela Sharkey, GHS sophomore and Devil Bots scout, said the team made some changes to the bot and the team's strategy before this weekend's event. The team previously took 31st out of 40 teams in a Traverse City competition.
“This time, we picked one thing to focus on and we made that our strong suit and that is getting the cubes into the vault which is five points per cube," Sharkey said.
Sharkey said the team changed course after having issues with its robot at Traverse City.
“This (robot) is completely different than what we started the season with,” she said. “Our first match, our robot kind of crashed and burned. Everything fell apart, we were having a lot of issues.”
The concept of the FIRST Robotics game is to build and program a robot; control the team bot on an obstacle course and be able to gather items; maneuver around the indoor playing field; and work with an alliance team to score points.
This year’s game, called “FIRST Power Up," centers around a retro arcade style game with power ups, yellow power cubes and robots that can be autonomous for 15 seconds and later can be controlled remotely by teams.
Students also have the chance to win scholarships in the process.
While the team did great, co-coach Mike Rinke said the Devil Bots will not be going to states this year.
“(We) made some good modifications to our robot in the process, got picked to be in the playoffs, but lost in the semifinals,” he said.
According to the First Robotics website, the Devil Bots finished the season with seven wins and seven losses.
The team’s next competition is during the offseason and is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, at Kettering University.
Johannesburg-Lewiston's Army of Sum team finished the Gaylord district with five wins and seven losses.
JOHANNESBURG — The Army of Sum has its marching orders.
The FIRST Robotics season officially started last month when school robotics teams had a chance to see the season's kickoff video that shows the game's new concept that changes each year. Johannesburg-Lewiston High School’s Army of Sum robotics team is working toward its first competition of the season next month.
Jessi Monroe, Army of Sum’s new advisor and high school science teacher, said she is excited to help students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) involved in the team.
“I have a soft spot for kids that want to do STEM activities, and there was a need for (this position) to be filled, and kids wanted to do this,” Monroe said. “Whether it’s the communications (aspect or others), some kids only want to build, some kids only want to program, some kids don’t even care about the robot, they just want to work on the website ... it fills so many STEM niches.”
The concept of the FIRST Robotics game is to build and program a robot, control the team bot on an obstacle course and be able to gather items like power cubes, maneuver around the indoor playing field and work with an alliance team to score points.
This year’s game has a retro arcade theme called “FIRST Power Up."
Senior Lyndsey Lester is on her third year with Army of Sum and is responsible for helping teammates build the robot.
“I’ve been on the build team the last three years, so I always love building the robot,” Lester said.
Teams have six weeks to build the bot and when Lester is not working on it, she will be scouting other teams for compatible alliances.
“Literally, the entire time (we’re) trying to figure out what the robots can do,” Lester said. “You basically go around to the pits or go up and talk to other teams that are at competitions to see what the robots can do … It’s kind of being nice (to other teams) and finding out alliances, seeing which teams you work best with.”
At the same time the robot is being constructed, members on the programming team are working to program the robot to be able to operate by remotes.
Seventh-grader Dylan White said because the school does not have a middle school robotics team, he is allowed to compete alongside high school teammates. White works with Army of Sum’s programmers to direct the bots' movements like lifting the power cubes to gain points in the game.
“There’s multiple things that go in because first you have to get the Mac drive set up,” White said. “Which the Mac drive basically is (connected to) our controller. We can drive forward and then pick up the power cube and then say we’re lining up to the scale that we have to get it on (and for example if) we’re off a little bit, we can push the controller (button) like this and the robot will move sideways.”
Teammates on the imagery team need to maintain a website and social media presence, give awards to other teams at tournaments, design Army of Sum shirts and logos and create little crafty robot toys called bot bugs.
“We make up our own prizes to give to other schools (teams) like ‘most helpful,’ ‘best robot design’ or some other ones,” Monroe said. “Our imagery team is all about communicating our views on things but also what we’re doing.”
The team also shares its design plans with other teams and rather than it be a shortcoming, that move actually helps teams since they can share ideas and help one another — especially when seeking alliances.
“Our robot may not be able to do everything. We might not be able to climb ... This just allows other teams to scout us and us to scout other teams,” Monroe said.
She said the team has seen an increase in support in terms of the number of mentors, having nearly doubled the number of supportive adult mentors to seven. There are roughly 22 team members.
Monroe said the team runs entirely on grants and donations and said robotics opens doors for students to make connections.
“We have a senior on the team, he had no idea what he wanted to do at the beginning of last year and now he knows he wants to go into programming — because of this,” Monroe said.
Army of Sum’s first competition of the season is scheduled for Friday, March 16, at Gaylord High School, where 39 other teams are set to compete in districts.
PAST J-L ROBOTICS