Robot rings Salvation Army kettle at Oakland Mall

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Volunteer bell ringers at Salvation Army red kettles are a familiar sight for shoppers during the holiday season.

The bell, attached to "Sphyrna 19.5" rings in front of the Salvation Army Red Kettle.

This year, members of a high school robotics team in Troy put their own spin on the annual fundraising tradition with a bell-ringing robot they designed.

The robot was put to the test Friday evening just inside the valet entrance at Oakland Mall.

“We love it. You see reactions from utter amazement to ‘what is this?,’” Captain Peter Mount of the Salvation Army said Friday evening. “You’re used to seeing a person standing there ringing the bell and now you have a robot that’s doing it. That’s absolutely incredible.”

It took a team of 15 students from Troy Athens and Troy High schools about two weeks to build the robot that moves on wheels, said Gurish Sharma, a 10th grader at Troy High School and member of the team, known as the Hammerheads.

“We really had fun designing the robot,” Sharma said. “We really wanted to bring STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) into the community. A lot of people can check out the robot, learn about STEM and contribute to the Salvation Army.”

The 60-pound, battery-powered device features a mechanism that controls the bell and a LED screen that scrolls the message “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Robot programming leader Alec Minchington, left, 17, of Sterling Heights, prepares the robot to ring the bell.

The team’s colors are blue, but Sharma said they made the robot red to fit with the holiday theme.

The robot is a modified version of the team’s world championship robot built in 2015 for the FIRST Robotics Championship, officials said. The four-day competition is held annually each spring.

“They worked really hard,” said team coach John Tu. “One of the students worked practically all night to program the robot.”

Tu said whenever the team gets a chance, they demonstrate their robots for the community.

Visits include middle schools, the Ann Arbor Hands on Museum, air show at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base and local libraries.

“Many of them want to learn as much as they can,” he said. “It’s cool for them to see high school robots as little kids.”

The robot was a hit for Dylan Koski, 7, who placed money in the red kettle. The Madison Heights boy and his father, Dave Koski, stopped so he could look at the robot and ask the robotics team questions.

“It’s definitely a new take on a holiday tradition,” David Koski said.


Twitter: CWilliams_DN