NHS to host robotics competition

Published 10:47 pm Thursday, January 27, 2011

Students at Niles High School are preparing for a competition of considerable proportions. The school will host a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) district robotics competition March 24-26.

The event is expected to bring at least an estimated 1,200 students, mentors and families to Niles, said volunteer coordinator Laura Hollister.

“That’s not even counting the families who will come and watch,” Hollister said.

Through FIRST, student teams participate by building a specialized robot capable of executing specific challenges as outlined by the organization. Teams on average consist of 20 members. This particular competition is for high school students.

A mother to one of the members on the Berrien Springs robotics team, Hollister said in bringing a district competition to the area, she had to locate a venue capable of seating 2,500 people.

“There are several teams in this area,” she said, although in regard to district competition, “there is really nothing in this corner of the state.”

Meaning the March event will be a considerable opportunity for students to show off their talents and capabilities, for others to see the opportunities available through robotics and for the city to play host to an onslaught of guests for the weekend.

A lesson in real life skills

Through FIRST robotics, Hollister said, students learn more than “hands on science and math teamwork.”

Teams breakdown into relative subgroups focusing on various aspects including business and finance, design and even software.

“We have Web designers on our team; we have marketing people; we have fundraisers — kids are involved in every aspect,” Hollister said. “The level of things they can get into is just absolutely amazing.”

Students are required not only to design, build and test out their robot — fine tuning the machine to execute certain challenges, such as hanging a foam ring on a peg — but are also charged with running their team as a virtual company.

Wayne Borr, who oversees the NHS team, said his students have been busy raising funds by speaking to local organizations and companies. The money raised goes toward paying for entry fees to competitions and for robotic components.

“You’re building it from scratch, but it’s definitely not a ‘here’s a book, build this robot’ situation,” Borr said. “This is real life skills, speaking in front of adult organizations is as real as it gets. Speaking in front of local CEOs at local corporations — it doesn’t get better than that.”

Two members of the Niles team spoke before an audience during a meeting of the Kiwanis Club on Thursday.

Hollister said the competition “requires a tremendous amount of commitment” from students.

“These kids put in some serious hours,” she said.

The students have six weeks to build their robot and prepare for competition, Through fundraising, businesses can see their business logo on either the club’s web7site, team T-shirts or team banners, dependent upon the level of sponsorship, Borr said.

An event for everyone

Members of participating robotics teams are just a couple of weeks into the building process.

But Hollister is emphatic in her explanation that the FIRST competition is serious competition.

“It is fiercely competitive,” she said.

And, she and Borr agree, seriously fun.

In addition to about 40 teams coming in to compete, there will be a DJ and informational booths and the atmosphere is designed to entertain both competitors and spectators.

“It’s going to be great,” Borr said. “We’re looking at 40 teams coming in from all over the state,” including teams from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Southfield and Holland.

The event is free and open to the public. Set up begins Thursday, March 24; competition starts Friday and concludes Saturday with awards.

For those members of robotics teams all across the state, the competition is “their varsity event,” Borr said.

With such a big audience expected to follow the competition, Hollister said she is still looking for about 80 volunteers for the event. For more information or to get involved, those interested can contact her at slhollister@gmail.com.

To learn more about the Niles High School robotics club, visit the club’s own site at www.nilesroboticsclub.com.