GIBRALTAR, Mich. — Picking up cubes and placing in them in specific spots doesn’t seem like much of a challenge, but try doing so with a remote-controlled robot while battling a clock.
Student-built bots got their first full workout of the robotics season Friday at a FIRST Robotics district competition at Oscar A. Carlson High School in Gibraltar, Mich. It’s the first year the 40-member Bedford Express group from Bedford Senior High School in Temperance has had two bots in the field.
Team coach Debbie May said the new junior varsity team, comprised of freshmen and sophomores, gives students a chance to learn and develop.
“We want to make them really strong as freshmen and sophomores so as they advance, they can apply complex thinking to the problem solving process,” she said.
JV member Layni Rober, 15, spent her first year with Bedford Express in “robot rally” helping teams in the pits, scouting out the competition, and building a small non-competition bot. She was excited to participate in real competition this year.
“When you actually put all that time into it and see it work, it’s amazing,” she said. “When it breaks and doesn’t work, you’re a little dead inside, but it’s still super cool.”
The JV bot’s cube-intake and lift system broke during a practice match, and students scrambled to fix it during Friday’s opening ceremony. They then won their first qualification match.
“It could have gone better, but there’s time to improve,” Miss Rober said. “We did fairly well for our first match. It’s very exciting.”
This year’s “Power Up” game tasked students with building bots to lift and deposit cubes on various scales, or push them through portals to be secured in vaults. The bots compete in alliances of three, pitting three teams against three others.
“Part of the game is that you have to try to build a robot that will be compatible with others,” Mrs. May said. “It’s never enough for one robot to complete the challenge. Flexibility is key.”
Students have six weeks after learning the year’s theme and game rules before the first competition. Bots can then be improved between competitions as the season progresses, though time to do so is limited to just six hours.
“Outside of competition, the robot is in a bag,” said 18-year-old Bedford senior Emily Grim, a driver and captain of the varsity team. “It’s very strict with what time you have to work with it.”
The Bedford Express teams actually built two bots, a competition model and a matching practice bot.
“If we have another robot, we can go to practice every night and keep troubleshooting,” Miss Grim said. “Whatever changes we make on the practice bot, we build a double of and implement it on the [competition] bot during our six-hour un-bag.”
While Miss Rober and Miss Grim both plan to go into engineering after high school, students also develop a number of other skills through the robotics program. Mrs. May said students get experience in teamwork, communication, business, marketing, strategy, and other areas in addition to math, science, and technology.
Miss Rober noted her social skills have improved because she helped make pitches to area businesses, like The Blade’s sister company Buckeye Broadband, for sponsorship.
“It’s not just about robots,” she said.
The competition continues Saturday with additional qualification matches followed by playoff matches and awards.
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