$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.

Lake Orion students click in robotics championship

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

One is named Twitch, the other Night Fury. And both aluminum-based robots dueled this week to bring glory to two Lake Orion schools in a major competition that some have dubbed a “Super Bowl for smart kids.”

The robotics teams from both Scripps Middle and Lake Orion High trekked to St. Louis to compete in the FIRST World Championship, which runs through Saturday. The event, coordinated by the nonprofit For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, draws thousands of youth from around the globe.

For the nearly two dozen students who spent months wielding their technical skills, showing off the results on a grand scale is a feat in itself.

“I’m pretty excited,” said David Tefend, 12, a sixth grader. “It’s pretty fun to be able to go as a first-timer.”

Scripps qualified by placing second at the FIRST Tech Challenge Super-Regional in Des Moines, Iowa, this month, while Lake Orion high reached the championship round of the FIRST Robotics Competition state finals in Saginaw, Lake Orion Community Schools officials said.

Ascending to the championships was doubly remarkable for Scripps, which is among only a few middle schools from Michigan participating. This was the first year a team formed there, and members logged about 80 hours after school and other times to assemble a robot capable of performing certain tasks, said Nick Colwell, the robotics team adviser and computer teacher.

Laboring to fashion several motors, bearings, controllers, wheels and other components into a contraption fitting an 18-inch cube offered the young builders a glimpse at a growing industry.

“It’s really changed my thoughts,” Tefend said. “I want to do more of the robotics stuff and become an electrical engineer when I grow up.”

At the competition, the middle school and high school students competed in alliances with their designed robots on themed playing fields.

It’s the first time the Lake Orion high school team has qualified for the World Championships in more than 12 years, district officials said.

“We’re hoping that by going you see what it takes to be that good and that helps kids have that desire and set goals that high,” said Jim Stuef, team adviser.

Working with others to figure out troubleshooting and basic mechanics was eye-opening for Courtney Stone, 16, a sophomore from Lake Orion who hopes to pursue a career in engineering or science.

“It’s very fun and the more people that get involved, the better,” she said. “It really helps you figure out what you want to do in the future.”

Meanwhile, another FIRST-related event is set to draw up to 25 teams from across the state and region to Dearborn next month.

The FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition is scheduled to take place at McCollough-Unis School on May 13, Dearborn Public Schools officials announced this week.

A post-season match with judging, scoring and awards, the event pits teams against each other in a Velocity Vortex Competition. The teams earn points by having their robots overcome obstacles and meet challenges.

The school’s team, the McU-Bots, is gearing up to host.

“We’re very excited to be hosting this event,” said teacher and robotics coach Kidada Simmons. “Our team, the students at McCollough Unis, many parents, and our staff are all pitching in and putting in the extra hours needed to make sure all the details are in place and the school is ready to go.”