Local robotics teams meet, share ideas

BIG RAPIDS — High school students spent Wednesday, Dec. 13, networking with their peers from other schools while gearing up for the FIRST Robotics Competition season.

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) is a program designed to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in programs that build science, engineering and technology skills.

While the high school season doesn’t start until Jan. 6, local teams met at the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District and discussed some of the various strategies they had during a morning challenge that may help them when they begin construction of their robot.

“We took this opportunity to get the teams together to connect and meet with industry folks,” said Larry Wyn, event coordinator. “This is a rallying event. I don’t think the students realize how much they learn from this.”

Wyn said the FIRST robotics program students go through teaches them hard skills, such as working with electronics, motors and drive trains, as well as programming, fabrication and coming up with a business plan and a way to advertise themselves. Wyn said students also learn soft skills, including team work, fundraising, communication and working with people in industry.

“Today’s event is new,” said Andrew Defever, coach of the Big Rapids Public Schools robotics team. “This is the first time we’ve done something like this with other teams.”

On Wednesday, students were presented with the challenge from 2013, during which robots were built to pick up and fling frisbees through various slots in the competition arena, as well as climb the rungs of a structure. Students were given time to create plans for how they would want their robot to look and what capabilities they would like it to have. Students then presented their designs to the other teams.

Defever said the event, sponsored by the Mecosta County Development Corporation, was great for allowing students to share ideas and see what other teams can come up with before any work can be done to construct a robot.

Dave Nelson, one of the coaches of the Morley Stanwood Community Schools team, agreed.

“This is a good way to brainstorm,” he said. “Sometimes we get all these ideas, then have to narrow them down to what we can do in our time limit.”

Nelson said gathering the different teams together helps remind students they may be challenging each other during the competition season, but they also could find themselves working together to earn points during some of the robotics matches.

The collaboration between students did not go unnoticed by Jody Clark, coach of the Chippewa Hills School District team, which has entered the competition for the first time this year.

“This is wonderful for my team,” she said. “This gives them an idea of how to compete with robots. The students realize they have to create a robot to play a game and there are limitations.”

Students could speak with other teams to find out how their robots were built previously, as well as ask what to expect for the kick-off event. In years past, the closest kick-off event was in Grand Rapids. This year, teams will be able to find out what this year’s challenge will be, as well as pick up the equipment they will use to built their robots on Ferris State University’s campus.

“This is a great opportunity for our students who have never been to kick-off event,” said Reed City Area Public Schools coach Brad Smith. “This gets them prepared for that process.”