SALINE, MI – Thirty-six robotics teams from across the state traveled to Saline High School to compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition event on Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1.
In the end, the prestigious Impact Award, which guarantees a team a slot at the state championships, was granted to the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park’s Lightning Robotics.
A handful of other teams also advanced to the FIRST State of Michigan Championship, taking place April 6-8 at Saginaw Valley State University.
The Engineering Inspiration Award was granted to Chelsea High School’s team Technical Difficulties and the Rookie All-Star Award went to Jackson Preparatory & Early College’s team Fighting Falcons.
A full list of results from the 2023 FIRST in Michigan District Saline Event can be found here.
Lightning Robotics, made up of 170 students, represented one of the larger teams at the competition. The team is divided into subgroups like design, strategy, fabrication, and communications, each with specific tasks they must tackle to assemble their robot.
“If you talk to anyone on (Lightning Robotics), they’ll all tell you that we learn more from this team than we do at school,” said senior Anwesha Pathak, the vice president of business for Lightning Robotics. “I would say all the skills I’ve learned from here, like communication skills, talking to people as well as compiling technical binders, business plans and even going to our sponsors’ companies, presenting (our plans) to them, getting professional feedback on it (shows me) how the work I do is mirrored very similarly to actual companies and what they do.”
At the competition, students put their robots to the test in a series of qualification matches between two alliances made up of three teams and their respective robots. The teams accumulate points by directing their robot to complete small tasks like moving small inflatable cubes and traffic cones into bins.
High-school teams have a little over two months to analyze the 2023 game manual, then design, program, and construct a robot to compete in the regional and districtwide competitions, which run through the month of March. They are helped by a professional mentor.
The objectives and guidelines of the game change every year, according to Pathak.
Victors at the FIRST State of Michigan Championship on April 7-8 will then have the opportunity to compete against over two hundred other teams from across the world at the FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas April 19-22.
An international nonprofit founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, FIRST aims to offer hands-on, STEM-based learning for K-12 students. Participants of the FIRST Robotics Competition are also granted access to exclusive scholarships, internships, and other academic opportunities that foster pathways into STEM careers.
Katie Brandt, a chemistry teacher at St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Wixom and director of their robotics team The SCA Constellations, said she has a student who is now attending Michigan Technological University “basically for free, with a stipend” courtesy of FIRST.
St. Catherine of Siena Academy senior Elaina Starzacher said she has decided to pursue biomedical engineering in college entirely due to her experience in robotics.
“Every single senior that is graduating (from the team) this year is majoring in some form of engineering,” Starzacher said of the all-female team.
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