By Jim Newell
Long hours. Hard work. Diversification of responsibilities. Intensive concentration and studying. No pay.
For most people, it does not sound like a lot of fun, but for the Lake Orion High School students on Robotics Team 302 it’s a dream job. Or a dream team.
And Team 302 wants people to know just that – they are a team, not a club.
The robotics students are working hard to build a robot for the upcoming First Robotics Competition season, breathing life into their mechanized creation.
But Team 302 still needs sponsorships to help with travel, competition and parts expenses. There are around 15 volunteers currently assisting the team, but more are always welcome.
Junior Grant Potter, in his third year with Team 302, is the business lead for the robotics team.
“This is an actual team,” Potter said in January. “Today, we are trying to finish up the wooden robot to send to (the) software (team). We hope to have the robot done, at least 80 percent done, by next weekend.”
Team 302 held its kick-off in mid-January and has been working steadfastly since to construct a winning robot. Since the kickoff, Potter said the team – between 30 and 40 people including students and mentors – has averaged about 22 hours per week per student working on the project.
To compete in the First Robotics Competition, the robot has to be designed to meet certain criteria.
The robot sucks up balls from the floor, puts the balls into a hopper and shoots the balls nine feet up into a boiler to score points. The robot also has hooks on the side to pick up gears in the competition arena to score more points.
The competitions are three against three, so Team 302 must make alliances and defeat other alliances.
“There are so many robotics engineering teams in Michigan because it’s such an engineering state,” said Potter, who works on awards, presentations, social media and runs the website for the team. “We (Team 302) have made tremendous progress compared to last year (at this time), so everybody’s really excited that we are where we are.”
But it is not just building one working robot: Team 302 has several different sub-groups, each working on important aspects of the overall competition process and marketing.
Senior Kathy Ciarelli works on designing “the pit” – “the home base for the team and robot.” She said there are different awards given out, including how the pit looks and functions, so she and other students want to make sure all aspects of the project are unrivaled.
She said that in six weeks, they achieve as a team work that professionals do and build a robot. “It gives you experience with STEM-related careers, and it gives a nice sense of accomplishment.”
Like in a professional setting, the team is divided into sub-teams, each with a particular focus to make the entire project a success.
The Engineering sub-team includes the electrical, CAD (Computer Aided Design), software, and fabrication teams.
The Business sub-team includes the marketing, purchasing, website and chairmen’s (responsible for writing and producing the chairmen’s video) teams.
The Competition sub-team includes the robot driving team, the pit team and the scouting team.
“These are honestly some of the best and brightest in the school…these are the future engineers, software programmers,” said parent Cathy Lawrence. “But these aren’t the glory teams.”
“The school thinks of robotics as a club, but we’re a team,” said parent Laura Lewis.
Robotics students must learn teamwork, science, technology, math and computer skills while building the robot – all things that will help them later in life the team’s mentors’ all said.
The competitions can have 40 teams, are held in a basketball arena with robotics students filling the stands. “It’s more exciting than a football game,” Lawrence said.
Bonnie Witcpalek, whose son, Evan, is her third child on the robotics team, said there are millions of dollars available in scholarships, internships and co-ops right out of high school for STEM and robotics students.
“These kids, they come out of this program so knowledgeable. They’re gold when they come out of this program. Everybody can go pro,” Witcpalek said, adding there is not enough emphasis on STEM classes.
The first competition is in Pennsylvania in March over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. And while out-of-state competitions do not count toward the Michigan state team scores, the competition is a chance for Team 302 to test their robot in a competition setting.
The team will compete March 24-25 in Mason (near Lansing) and in Howell on March 31.
The state competition is April 13, if Team 302 qualifies. Then the Robotics World Competition is at the end of April. Next year’s Robotics World Competition is at the Cobo Event Center in Detroit.
The team, as it has done in the past, plans to take their robot to community events to raise awareness and sponsorships. One focus for which they want to raise awareness is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in schools. Team 302 also attends the Dragon on the Lake festival and the Back to the Bricks festival in Genesee County.
The Lake Orion Review newspaper, through Sherman Publications, Inc., is a Team 302 sponsor.
By Jim Newell