Students to acquire real-world skills in robot contest
Capac, Mich. – Teams participating in this year’s FIRST Robotics competition will be taking a step back so they can make several steps forward.
The challenge is based on classic arcade video games such as Donkey Kong. Teams will be required to build robots that can pick up and stack power cubes.
“It’s very doable,” said Janet Antilla, who coaches the Capac High School Metal and Soul team with her husband, John Antilla, and the help of three of the four Antilla children.
“We have stacked things before ... and we have hung a robot before,” she told the Times Herald . “It’s similar to things we have done, but it’s also different from things we have done.”
Students representing 21 teams from throughout Michigan were at Capac High School earlier this month for the reveal of the 2018 challenge. Brennan Master, 16, a junior at Marysville High School, came prepared with a Super Mario Odyssey cap.
“I figured this year would be based on a video game,” the member of the Marysville Vi-Bots said. “I figured for the occasion I would wear something that was in tune with a video game, and Mario was good for that.”
The reveal stayed with the retro theme, using an animation based on an 8-bit arcade game.
Students were urged to compete with what FIRST’s Woodie Flowers calls “gracious professionalism” — competing hard, but playing well with others.
Janet’s husband, John Antilla, also coaches the Capac team. He said FIRST in the Thumb has grown from eight teams to the current 21.
“It stimulates real-world interest in science, technology, engineering and math,” he said. “It gives them that hands-on experience. ... More than that, it allows the student to interact with adults ... and learn adult behavior in the workplace.”
FIRST is not merely a robot-building competition, he said. Students are required to create a business plan and to find sponsors.
“It really is a microcosm of real-world business,” John Antilla said.
Jon Smith, a teacher at Marysville High School and the coach of the Vi-Bots, said his team has grown to 38 kids who had been looking forward to Saturday since the start of the school year.
“I was doing fine until about 10:30 last night,” he said. “That’s when the anxiety set in.”
The Vi-Bots, as they have done the past two years, will be playing host to a FIRST District event, April 5-8. Smith said 40 teams have signed up to compete in Marysville.
Rachel Foster and Chris Foster, of Armada, are members of Da Moose, an independent team not affiliated with a high school. They were looking forward to the big reveal.
“I like having things to go out and do,” said Rachel Foster, 17. She said friends told her and her brother about Da Moose.
“This is a team that is willing to accept new people,” she said.
Chris Foster, 14, said he had another reason for becoming a member of Da Moose.
“My mom made me,” he said.
Sandy Foster said her two kids have embraced FIRST and being on Da Moose.
“I had to drag them to the first meeting, but they loved it once they went,” she said.
Bryson DenUyl, 16 and a member of the Vi-Bots, agreed that being in FIRST Robotics is almost as fun as the Port Huron to Mackinac Island sailboat race. He was a member of a class-winning crew in the 2017 race.
“It’s more of a long-term thing,” he said.
Joseph Herrick, 14, was at his first reveal. He’s a ninth-grader at Brown City High School.
“I like robots and stuff,” he said.
His father, Randy Herrick, said the competition builds life skills.
“Right now, he’s learning a skill that he can turn into a profit when he’s out of school,” Herrick said.
FIRST Robotics is the brainchild of entrepreneur and innovator Dean Kamen, who appeared briefly in the reveal animation to give students a pep talk.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you fail if you are trying to do something that has never been done,” he said.