Evolving Grayling Robo Vikes headed to state finals
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
In its third year, the Grayling High School’s Robo Vikes won a district competition and are heading to the state championships this weekend.
The team, officially known as Grayling High School Robo Vikes #6121, was formed in 2016 through FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC), the competitive world of high school robotics.
There are 508 robotics teams located throughout Michigan. Over the course of six weeks, the Grayling Robo Vikes have taken part in 26 competitions.
The matches this year focused on programming the robot to run in an autonomous mode as it went out on the playing field. Then, the team drivers used the robot to stack power cubes, milk crates with covers on them, vertically and horizontally on a scale. The robot then had to climb up a pole.
The team forms an alliance with other teams for the competitions, so they scout out the best-of-the-best to partner with during the matches.
“The object for your three robotic alliance is to basically to control the stack and scale, so you want to have more cubes on there than the opponents,” said Rick McBride, who along his wife, Janet, are co-lead mentors for the team.
McBride said the level of sophistication of the team’s robot has evolved by leaps and bounds.
This season, students put more time into programming to continually improve the robot.
“This year’s game is never the same. Every match is different,” said Tyler Zaiger, a Grayling High School senior and lead programmer for the team. “We’ve been doing really well and I’m very proud of this team.”
The team includes 14 students and 14 mentors.
The team has earned some prestigious accolades this year. During a competition in Traverse City, the Grayling Robo Vikes were recognized with a creativity award.
The team received a quality award and safety culture award at the completion of district matches held in Alpena on Saturday, April 7.
“Getting a safety culture award is really nice,” McBride said. “It says that we are doing the right things and emphasizing the right values. In my book, safety comes first. I don’t want to see anyone ever get hurt.”
More importantly, the team was honored with a blue banner, which is high coveted recognition in robotics competitions.
“Those things are really special,” McBride said. “Teams don’t get those very often.”
The Grayling Robo Vikes were partnered with teams from Alpena and Posen during the district finals match.
A total of 160 teams will compete at the state competition, which will be held from Wednesday, April 11, to Saturday, April 14, at Saginaw Valley State University.
Forty teams will compete on four different playing fields. There will be 12 qualification rounds, when the teams will compete individually.
“We’re back on our own,” McBride said.
The team will then form alliances for three elimination rounds.
“I think our team’s chances are very good to make it through qualifications and make it into the elimination rounds,” McBride said. “That’s all I want right now.”
Four champions will be crowned for each playing field.
“Whoever we’re partnered up with for the elimination rounds, we’ll do the best we can,” McBride said. “We developed some good strategy on the fly at Alpena that worked very well with our opposing alliances. I’m very confident that we can do that again.”
The finalists will go on a world competition, which will be held in Detroit later this month.
Janet McBride noted that the team has gained hands-on experience in stepping up its performance for each match.
“We’ve had to adapt and that’s basically how engineers work,” she said. “You make your prototype or your part and then you figure how to make it better and you keep in that engineering loop. It’s been a great year. The competition at Alpena was very exciting.”
The student group includes a programming team, a build team and a business team, which is in charge of planning and recruiting sponsors.
Twenty-eight sponsors have provided provisions and financial support for the Grayling Robo Vikes.
“I’m very proud of the community,” Rick said. “We’ve got great support.”
Kaitlin Bennett, a Grayling High School senior, has been on the team for all three years. She transitioned this year from being part of the business team to the build team, which she has enjoyed.
Bennett said the changes in the team and its performance has been remarkable.
“They say it’s the hardest fun you’ll ever have, which is the truth – 100 percent,” Bennett said.
Rick McBride said six seniors on the team already have gained funding for their continued education.
“Out of our six seniors, all of them have scholarships and most of them have full rides,” he said.
Zaiger said his involvement with the robotics team has prompted him to shift his focus on a different career.
“As the leader in programming, I really want to get a degree in computer science,” said Zaiger, who plans to continue as an advisor for FIRST Robotics Competition matches.