Grayling Robo Vikes launch into a new season with a lot of community support

The Grayling Robo Vikes blasted into a new season this past weekend with an intricate robot built to handle a variety of challenges.
The team made it into the semifinals in its first match held at the Alpena High School from Thursday, March 21 through Saturday, March 23.
More challenges have been added to the robotics competition for this season.
The first 15 seconds of the competition is called a sandstorm period, when a blanket covers the view of the field, and the robot can only be guided by mounted cameras on its body.
Madison Hehir, a junior, said the robot can pick up orange balls, which are called cargo. The cargo goes into  different field pieces called  cargo ships and a rocket. Hatch panels, which are circular disks, are also put on the cargo ships and the rocket. 
“You have to have hatch panels on to keep the balls from falling out,”  Hehir said. 
Once the ships and the rockets are filled, the team earns points toward its overall ranking in the competition. During the last 30 seconds of the competition, the robot climbs on ramps set at three different levels.
“Depending on which level you are on, you get  a certain amount of points,”  Hehir said.
Hehir plans on pursuing a career in mechanical engineering from the skills she has learned on the team.
“There is no place I would rather be,” she said. “This is the best thing in the world. They’re so many people and we’re like a family. There is so much you can learn from this like mechanical skills, engineering, along with leadership, communication and team work.”
Another upcoming match will be held in Traverse City.  State finals will be held at Saginaw Valley State University.
This is the third year that the team has been led by Rick and Janet McBride.
The Grayling Robo Vikes started out with a First Robotics grant over three years to help build a foundation for the club. Since then, First Robotics has changed its funding format, giving each team $1,000 as seed money to garner community support and to raise funds from local organizations and businesses.
The Grayling Robo Vikes received a Department of Defense grant to support the team due to the community’s ties with Camp Grayling. Other major employers and organizations have provided financial support for the team.
“We’re really fortunate because we’ve gotten some really good support in the community,” Janet said.
It costs $5,000 to register as a team for a season. If the team makes it to the state final competitions, it costs another $4,000. And if the team makes it to the world finals, that costs another $5,000. 
The funds are also used to build the robot and for travel expenses. 
The club hopes to bank money for future years.
“We have enough money to run the team, and we’re working at putting away a little money every year to become a sustainable team,”  Janet said.
The robot is outfitted with cameras, pneumatics, positional controllers,  motors and  constant force springs used to lift an elevator on the robot up to nine feet.
“We basically have a complete robot,” Rick said. “This year, we are looking very good. Each year, I have tried to add more and more complexity.” 
The team includes 17 members and 17 mentors, with a number of new members joining this year.
“The students are meeting and exceeding all of my expectations,” Rick said.
The team hopes to go back to the world finals this year. There are 7,000 First Robotic teams worldwide and 510 teams in Michigan.
The world competitions bare being held at Cobo Hall and Ford Field in Detroit, with another competition being hosted in Houston, Texas. 
“Last year, we competed against teams from all over the world,” Rick said. “It was very interesting and it was a great experience for the students. The ones that came back this year, they’re hungry to go back again.”
Eight students, who graduated last year, are now attending the top technological programs at colleges located throughout Michigan, with scholarships to help with their educational endeavors.
“There is more scholarships in First Robotics than there is in football, baseball and basketball combined,” Rick said. “That’s a lot of money.”
Tyler Brandt is the sole senior on the Grayling Robo Vikes team. He has been involved with the team for three years after Gaynell Gentelia, a former team lead mentor and coach, urged him to give it a try.
Brandt plans on studying computer engineering with an ultimate goal of working as a software engineer for Apple.
“I developed a love for robotics, and I’m really glad that people talked me to it,” Brandt said.
This year, the knowledge of the team is being supplemented by robotics classes  at the Grayling High School, taught by Dan Latusek, and at the Grayling Middle School, under the direction of Christine Nothstine. 
Latusek, who is on the leadership team for the Grayling Robo Vikes, has previous experience with robotics at a middle school in Kansas using LEGO robotic components.
Latusek, a first year teacher at Grayling High School who also teaches Spanish, jumped at the chance to be involved with the robotics team that operates on a much more complicated scale.
“This is way more involved than what I working with at the middle school,” he said. “Whereas it was just LEGO pieces, we’re now shaping and machining our own parts. I’m learning a lot in my first year.”
Connor Eames, a  junior on the Grayling Robo Vikes team, plans to pursue his education and career in computer engineering.
“First Robotics has really impacted my life in what I now view as fun,” Eames said. “It takes dedication, but it’s the hardest fun you will ever have.”
Benjamin Snyder, another junior on the team, looked forward to working out last-minute glitches with the team’s robot.
“This is great experience, learning all of the sub-systems of the robot and working with a team to solve a problem, and it’s exactly how it would be on an actual job,” Snyder said. “It’s fun and involved and it’s great.” 

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806
E-Mail: information@crawfordcountyavalanche.com

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