Local schools compete at World Robotics Championship

Photo provided by Ontonagon Gladiator Robotics Members of Ontonagon Area High School’s FIRST Robotics team are seen at the FIRST Robotics World Championships in Houston. Team members are AJ Rowley, Jacob Burrows, Kole Kin, Wyatt Razmus, Samantha Badgero, and Logan Dishaw. The adult mentors are Bill Burrows, Floyd Rowley, and Glen Beck.



HOUGHTON — Two local high school robotics teams traveled to Houston last month to compete among the top teams in the world.

Houghton High School’s Superior 857 Roboworks team and Ontonagon Gladiator Robotics 6569 both competed in the FIRST Robotics World Championships, held April 17-20.

On the first Saturday of January, FIRST Robotics unveiled the year’s new game to all teams simultaneously. This year, teams had a music-themed game, Crescendo.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Members of Houghton High School’s FIRST Robotics team pose with their robot. Clockwise from bottom left are Leila L., Fiona B., Katie M., Rachel B., Jacob M., Kyle H., Yamato T. and Reagan A.

“We always immediately start figuring out ways that we can score,” said Houghton player Rachel B. “It’s kind of fun. We all have a notebook, and we all just immediately start drawing mechanisms and those crazy ideas.”

In Crescendo, robots start off by autonomously shooting notes — orange foam rings — into “speakers” and “amps” mounted on the wall. Once humans take over controls, more strategy comes into play. Teams can place two notes in an amp to amplify their speaker; that starts a period where any points scored in the speaker will earn a bonus.

Building the robots that can execute those tasks takes time. The Houghton team spends about three hours a day on weekdays, and another four hours on Saturdays. For Ontonagon, they meet 6 to 9 p.m. five days a week, skipping Wednesdays and meeting more minimally on Sundays.

Both teams try to progress from the design phase to testing as quickly as possible. The sooner they have a prototype, the sooner they can spot the flaws and make improvements.

Before Houghton has a full-scale robot, it will test specific features.

“We tried out something very similar to what we have for the shooter now, that we just plugged into last year’s robot, and basically whipped up in a couple of minutes,” said Houghton student Kyle H.

Ontonagon’s goal was to have a functioning robot within six weeks, putting it two weeks before competition, said coach Glen Beck.

The troubleshooting can continue right up to the start of the game. At Worlds, Ontonagon had an issue with an autonomous mechanism that wasn’t shooting or lining up correctly.

“I had a five-minute span to just trouble-shoot and just keep writing new code, keep playing with numbers, until it finally decided to work, and we were finally able to tell everyone how to place the robot on the field,” said Ontonagon student AJ Rowley.

Houghton and Ontonagon were both making return trips to the World competition. This year was Ontonagon’s third and Houghton’s sixth.

“It’s really fun, because you’re not competing to keep on moving anymore, you’re competing to just see how good you are,” Rachel said. “Then you’re also with all these other teams that are in the same place, that they don’t have to show themselves off a ton because they want to keep going, because there is nothing after. So you get to just have fun, meet people.”

To help with the trip expenses, Houghton and Ontonagon both raised funds through GoFundMe pages. Houghton’s raised almost $19,000, along with other donations; one of their sponsors, GLSB, also uses their CNC machine to cut out their robot parts. Ontonagon raised about $7,500 through its page, and also does additional fundraisers during the year.

“We couldn’t do this without the support of the community,” Beck said.

Houghton finished 17th out of 75 in their division, while Ontonagon finished 50th. Neither team was picked to join an alliance after the initial qualifying rounds.

Houghton had entered with the goal of doing better than it had before, which it accomplished, Kyle said. While the team did not make the playoffs,

“Not getting into the playoffs was a bit of a blow, but it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “We still did really well.”

Rowley said she’s looking forward to building on her experience for next year.

“It definitely gives me a little more confidence that we’ll do a lot better next year and that we can do it again and maybe even get to the finals, now knowing what we need to do, like be a little more hungry,” she said.

Students said they’ve gotten a lot out of the program, from more self-confidence to new career paths.

“Going to Houston as a person who grew up in a small town in Michigan is kind of crazy,” said Houghton student Katie M. “But it happened, and it was fun. And we do all sorts of other things. And it’s really a good community, and you meet a lot of fun people and then make new friends and you get good connections everywhere.”

Kyle H., who had planned to become a veterinarian, now wants to become a mechanical engineer. He’s also gotten a new sense of confidence.

“Just being able to feel like I have something about myself now that I’m able to share with others and be proud of, some achievements of my own that I have forged,” he said.

For Ontonagon team member Logan Dishaw, the experience had given him more knowledge of how to use tools and machines.

Rowley was going to pursue neonatal nursing. But once she started learning about coding and robotics, she knew what she wanted to do.

“It can definitely become a career, so it’s not just a pointless little thing,” she said. “A lot of people think it is, but for us it’s a lot more.”


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