Student teams pit robots head-to-head

Over 50 high school teams gathered in Milwaukee to deploy multi-purpose robots in a head-to-head competition.

The FIRST Robotics Competition took place March 22 – 24, featuring teams of 20 or more students from across the country, including 40 teams from Wisconsin alone.

They were tasked with raising funds for the project, creating an engaging team brand, and building and programming robots that had to navigate a complex challenge course.

Robots had to shoot whiffle balls, climb a rope, and carry gears to a designated drop-off spot. Teams were given these challenges in the first week of January, with six weeks to design and build a robot that could accomplish these tasks as quickly and accurately as possible.

Chilton High School was one Wisconsin team that competed, earning 22nd place.

Hannah Reilly, 17, was part of the team’s mechanical division, and worked on the gear-gatherer function of the robot. As a senior, she says competing in the FIRST competition for four years in a row has given her unique learning opportunities.

“I got to learn how to use a bunch of things like lathes and mills, and learned a whole lot about fabrication that I didn’t have access to at my school,” Reilly said.

Getting ready to compete took hours of preparation, intense brainstorming, and at least one instance of starting over from scratch. But she says it all paid off in the end, as the team’s rank was a big jump from last year.

“This is the best we have finished in the eight years we have been a team,” she said. “This year, we had more judges looking at the robot than ever before.”

FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a not-for-profit public charity started by inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen in 1989 to inspire youth to learn more about STEM opportunities.

It’s stated vision is “to transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

Reilly is planning to attend the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities for aerospace engineering, something she hasn’t always known she wanted to do.

“Going into robotics as a freshman, I had no idea what engineering is, but I knew it had to do with math and science, so that sounded cool to me,” she said. Four years later, she now has high hopes of working with advanced machinery in top companies including SpaceX and Lockheed Martin.

“I mean, it would be really cool to work for NASA, that’s always been a dream of mine,” she said. “Realistically, I’m not entirely sure; but I want to do something with designing rockets.”

–By Alex Moe