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Robotics team successfully completes their third robot

East Grand Rapids Robotics (otherwise known as FRC 5980) has this season in the bag – literally.

“We have to seal our robot in a bag,” Clara Luce ‘18 said. “We’ll be here until midnight on Bag Day probably scrambling to finish our last-minute things. Then we just seal it up.”

Luce was right; on Feb. 20 the team was in the high school band room until past midnight working on Susan (the name of this year’s robot) because they were determined to make every minute count.

“It’s really crunch time,” Paul Gross ‘18 said. “You really have to build a lot in a short amount of time. You only have a little less than two months to build this whole robot from when the original game video is released about the theme.”  

Each year, the non-profit organization FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) releases a game video revealing the theme and the tasks that this year’s FRC (First Robotics Competition) robots must complete. The 2018 theme is FIRST Power Up, and consists of  arcade-style game pieces such as yellow power cubes similar to the those found in the classic Mario Bros game. The competition field is set up with two switches on each side: the red team and the blue team and a scale in the middle. The object of the game is to gain ownership of the scale by placing more cubes on it. It’s a considerable task, but nothing that the team can’t handle.

“From what I’ve experienced, all the stress you put in for those six weeks is worth what you get out of it in all the competitions. So even when I get really stressed during build season, I know that it’s going to be worth it even if our robot is not amazing. It’s not about the robot;it’s about the team,” Luce said.

This idea that robotics is about more than just the robot is widely shared among Luce’s teammates.

“It’s about competition but it’s also about creativity and the drive of your team. In the future, I think my hands-on skills can be used for just about anything but also I can use what I’ve learned from collaborating with not just the people on the team but other teams across the state and even other countries,” Gross said. “Over the summer we collaborated with the FIRST Global Niger Team. They were building a robot and we assisted them through conference calls. I’d say robotics helps you overall with a wider perspective. It’s not just about the robot, it’s about overall knowledge and collaboration with people.”

Even some of the team’s newer members can sense the importance of collaboration on the team.

We’re all such nerds.”

— Clara Luce '18

“The easiest part was working with the team, like when we were prototyping and making everybody’s ideas for the robot come together,” Libby Chambers ‘20 noted.

The valuable skills learned from robotics don’t end there.

“I’ve learned a lot of physical things like how to use a drill and a band saw and I know how to weld stuff and a bunch of skills I’d never learn in a classroom. We’ve also had to go to sponsorship meetings where we’re presenting ourselves like a brand and a product to people so I’ve learned how to be a professional even as a high schooler,” Luce said. “It helps students kind of understand what they want to do with their lives because there are so many parts of robotics that encompass a lot of professions so it just kind of guides you a little bit before you go off to college.”

One of those possible future professions is working at the high profile company SpaceX, as the team learned last year.

“We met this guy, Tim Balls, who was on a FIRST Robotics team and now works at SpaceX. He just worked on the recent rocket launch and also at Intel and Google,” Luce said. “He came and talked to us about how robotics influenced him and having him as a connection now is a really cool opportunity. I want to go into something with space and he obviously has connections in that industry. Opportunities like that are once in a lifetime.”

Even if you’re not interested in the STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), the robotics team wants you to know that it has a place for you.

“You know, there are a lot of clubs and all that but robotics is just a really fun one,” Gross said. “I would encourage anyone who’s interested in Science, Math, or technology, or even if you’re not, it’s still something fun to do. It’s all toward a greater cause.”

“I started robotics because I wanted to join a club going into high school as a freshman and I thought I would learn a lot of skills from it and I have. It’s given me chance to meet upperclassmen and have faces in the hallways that I can say hi to,” Chambers said. “It sounds really daunting because it takes a lot of time and only smart people do it but it’s actually really easy to join and be a part of.”

“It’s a really good thing to get into because it gives you so many connections and you won’t believe how fun it is,” Luce said. “We’re all such nerds and we’re all so weird but it’s okay because we’re all like that.”

Now that their robot is built, what does the team do now?

According to Luce, the team is already starting to prepare for their district competitions at St. Joseph and Grand Valley State University next month.  

“We’ll start building our pit which is the place where we keep all our tools at competition,” Luce said. “We’re basically just building our brand as a team.”

Photo of EGR Robotics’s presentation at Salespad on Feb. 23 courtesy of Chris Bruinsma ’19

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