By Mike DeWitt
The outside fortifications of the castle have taken serious damage as the opposing forces lick their chops readying for a takeover. Three valiant knights, bonded by an alliance, are all the castle has left. They band together and strike back, strategically battering the opposing stronghold with a flawlessly executed counterattack that places victory within reach.
Now all that’s left is to bring down the tower, and time is running out.
It’s a battle scene playing out straight from a movie. However, these knights aren’t people, they’re robots, and they’re built and operated by high school students on a quest for a state championship at the DeltaPlex from April 14-16..
FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in Michigan is an organization and robotics competition that gives students an opportunity to build their own robots and compete against other teams. It’s a way for students to discover how rewarding a career in engineering or technology can be.
Code Red Robotics, a local program based in Kentwood, recently qualified for the Michigan FIRST Robotics State Championship that will be held this weekend at the DeltaPlex Arena. Code Red enters the competition with the highest district score in West Michigan, highest scoring regular season match in the country, and as a winner of the Chairman’s Award, the top award in FIRST.
The competition theme for this year is “FIRST Stronghold” and creates alliances of three robots on a quest to breach their opponents’ fortifications, weaken the opponents’ tower with foam boulders, and ultimately capture the tower. Students were given six weeks to create a robot from scratch that could best handle all the obstacles. In all, the outermost line of fortification had more than 18,000 possible field configurations.
“Robotics is a great opportunity for the kids to learn teamwork. It truly is a team sport,” said Code Red director Ken Orzechowski.
Code Red Robotics started in 2008 and hasn’t looked back. Since the team started competing in 2009, Code Red has qualified for the state championship every year but one and has qualified for the world championship twice.
While most robotics teams are affiliated with a school, Code Red Robotics runs separately and relies on students from surrounding area schools to bolster the team. It’s the most challenging obstacle for the program.
“We have to constantly reach out to kids to join,” said Orzechowski. “It’s difficult, but having a team represented by 10 different schools only adds to our team dynamic. Plus, once they get in, they don’t leave. It’s too much fun!”
The schools represented at Code Red include Byron Center, Caledonia, Calvin Christian, Forest Hills Central, Grandville, Kenowa Hills, NorthPointe Christian, South Christian, Well Spring Academy, and home schools. On top of bringing kids in from other schools to learn robotics and be a part of a team, Code Red has been active in starting up robotics programs across the area.
In order to get a new program off of the ground, Code Red meets with school and community leaders, recruits mentors to help the students, and aids in finding sponsors and developing business plans. Their efforts have succeeded in getting six programs off the ground and rebooting another: the Forest Hills Comets, East Kentwood Red Storm, the Altobots, West Mi Aviation Spitfires, Harper Creek Robo Beavers, and the Petoskey Paladins. Code Red was also instrumental in finding mentors and sponsors to revive the Wyoming Demons after they folded in 2012. The Demons also qualified for the state championship this year.
“Starting some of these programs has cut into our own pool of kids, but that’s okay. It’s all about spreading the positives that come with FIRST,” said Orzechowski.
Orzechowski touched on those positives that spread well beyond the technical skills learned.
“It forces kids to articulate what they know and share ideas. We have a lot of smart kids; at one point we had five valedictorians, but they don’t always know how to share their ideas. If you can’t articulate your idea, it’s as bad as not knowing it. The teamwork that is required for FIRST helps build those skills.”
Code Red Robotics will compete in the state championship at the DeltaPlex, April 14-16. For further information on the competition, visit FIRST in Michigan. For more information on Code Red Robotics, visit their website.