By Chris Hagan
Review Staff Writer
Members of Lake Orion’s FIRST Robotics team held an expo at the high school last week celebrating the team’s accomplishments.
The event not only brought together students on the varsity robotics team, but it also included students in the elementary and middle school robotics clubs.
The purpose was to acknowledge the hard work and dedication for those involved in the robotics team but also expose kids of all ages to the team.
School lead and engineering design teacher Jim Stuef also viewed the event as A way to connect with incoming students who may not have an interest in sports but still looking for an activity that sparks their interest.
“The kids in this field are going to be the ones with the intelligence, to do the kinds of things like cure cancer and we’re putting them on a pedestal,” Stuef said. “We’re giving all sorts of age groups an exposure to this from elementary, to middle and high school kids.”
Stuef, who helped get the robotics team going in the late 1990’s, has seen the program develop and advance to a level that’s comparative to a professional engineering environment.
Students have six weeks from the announcement of the competition to design, fabricate, program and practice with their robot. This year’s competition required students to build a robot small enough to fit under an opening less than two feet high, be able to extend itself to hang from a bar, all while having the ability to a shoot a ball into a tower.
Though the team didn’t make it to the world competition in St. Louis, Stuef and lead business mentor Valerie LeTendre are consistently impressed with what the kids are able to do given that the robotics team doesn’t receiving funding from the school system.
“This is probably the most amazing engineering project you can do,” Stuef said. “You look at a robot, it has electrical systems, it has pneumatics, it has mechanical systems, programming, CAD design, you name it and it has it and it’s a miniature car.”
LeTendre noted that the robotics team is one of the most important activities in the school system given the professional infrastructure of Oakland County.
“It’s about STEM, science, technology, engineering and math and what they do here is just like a real engineering environment,” she said. “It gives them live experience in an engineering, business world and this is our way of giving back to the community and educating the community on what Lake Orion is doing for STEM.”
Juniors Eric Smith and Jarod Lawrence, are members of the varsity robotics team working on the electrical and programming components of the robot.
Smith has a divine passion for the sport and will even take on engineering challenges at home.
The 17-year-old robot co-pilot and code writer built his own 3D printer at home in under 15 hours impressing not only Lawrence but Stuef as well. But he says the robotics team is unlike anything he’s done before.
“At home, I can go play around with my computer but where else could I possibly get to work on a full robot that basically mimics an industrial robot,” Smith said. “It’s just an experience you can’t get anywhere else I believe.”
Lawrence, also 17, loves the aspect of how different the competitive nature of robotics can be. He says they don’t operate opponent against opponent atmospheres like typical sports. He says robotics has “co-opertition.”
It means that in one round your teammate might be your adversary in the next round.
“You have to compete and cooperate with every team out there and it’s nothing like any sport out there,” Lawrence said. “With this it’s kind of like ‘we’re going to beat you, but we want to help you win,’ it’s crazy.”
By Chris Hagan