A team of Farmington Schools students gathered Tuesday morning around a laptop set up in the gymnasium at Farmington High School, watching closely as the robot they created made its way across the floor.
The Hackbots robotics team put the finishing touches on their entry in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics district competition, held March 8-9 at Waterford Mott High School. Team members represent Farmington, Harrison and North Farmington high schools.
Mentor Dan Riehl said about 80 students expressed interest when the unified team was created, and between 40 and 50 are actively involved. One program for all three schools helps hold down the high cost of the program, which is also offset by generous sponsors that include Bosch and Paragon Machine and Tool.
This year's challenge, "Ultimate Ascent", requires students to build a robot that moves across a field with two large pyramids at opposite ends. The robot is loaded with flying discs that the robot must toss at targets to earn points. The robot may also climb rungs on one of the pyramids to earn extra points.
Once students and advisors learned what they had to do, Riehl said, "we got in a very large group and went through a strategy session. This group decided they wanted to ... design a bot that can shoot a disc very accurately."
Chris Ely, a senior at Farmington High, has been with the program all four years of high school. He said his father, Jeff, introduced him to the FIRST program when he was in middle school.
"I've always liked building things and problem solving," he said. "And this is just fun."
Ely said students met four days a week and spent hours drawing sketches on paper, then entering them in a computer aided design program, before putting the robot together. They were required to stop working on it on Tuesday at midnight; between now and March, strategy is the name of the game.
Advisor Chuck Mullen, a Farmington High teacher, said once the competition in Waterford and a second event in Livonia at the end of March are over, the robot will be taken apart, but not forgotten.
"We'll use parts of it for next year's robot," he said.
For more information about Michigan FIRST Robotics and the upcoming events, visit firstinmichigan.org.