Grayling RoboVikes prepare for first competition of the year

Robotics team to compete at Traverse City Central on March 16-18 and Lake Superior State University on March 23-25
The Grayling RoboVikes 6121 are gearing up for another round of competition, preparing for this weekend’s season opener.
Rick McBride, Grayling RoboVikes Lead Mentor, said this year’s group has 14 students and seven mentors. The RoboVikes will travel to FIRST Robotics competitions at Traverse City Central High School (March 16-18) and Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie (March 23-25) in the next two weeks.
McBride said the team has been working on its robot from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. during weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays since early January.
RoboVikes members said if they earn enough points during two district meets they will qualify for the state competition to be held at Saginaw Valley State University on April 6-8.
Kris Snyder, one of the lead business students for the Grayling RoboVikes, said each year features a different “game” for the competitors. Snyder said this year’s challenge involves using the robot to “pick up cones and cubes” and put them “in specific spots.” Snyder said “strategy” comes into play with trying to get point bonuses for “putting things in the right places.”
“Having two different game pieces to pick up is more complicated,” Snyder said.
Snyder said speed is a factor in the game, as well as autonomous capability (accomplishing tasks without a driver).  
“Our programming team has been doing a lot of hard work to make that happen,” Snyder said.
Snyder said the robot has to conform to size regulations.
“It’s for good reason. In the real world you have to build within specific dimensions with specific parts,” Snyder said.
According to Snyder, the team has added a “swerve drive” to this year’s robot. Snyder said the swerve capability allows the wheels to “move independently from each other,” offering improved mobility.
“I feel like right now we’re really ahead of the game. We’re finding ways to improve the robot and make it better,” Snyder said.
Snyder said team members enjoy the camaraderie, and the robotics program offers kids a great introduction to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
“It’s great because there’s so many parts to it,” Snyder said. “There’s programming, there’s build, there’s mechanical, there’s electrical, and business. Since it’s a small team, a lot of the people do a lot of things all at once.”
“It’s like a family,” Snyder said. “We have a great team of a lot of dedicated people.”
Snyder said the RoboVikes were still working on a name for the robot as of March 7.
“We always end up naming the robot weird things,” Snyder said. “We have a lot of fun.”
Snyder said the RoboVikes are ahead of schedule as they prepare for the Traverse City meet.
“We think we’re going to do really great. We’re really confident going into this,” Snyder said. 
Snyder said competition usually features approximately 40 teams and it involves working with other squads. Snyder said they refer to it as “coopertition,” a cross between cooperation and competition. Snyder said the FIRST Robotics community is “close knit.”
“It’s really in everyone’s best interest to just help everyone,” Snyder said.
McBride said the Grayling RoboVikes have been fortunate to have several sponsors, including Enbridge and Weyerhaeuser for major sponsorships and several local businesses that assist the program in a variety of ways.
McBride said the Crawford AuSable School District has been very supportive of the program, and the RoboVikes are looking forward to moving into a larger room this summer through improvements made possible by a bond proposal passed by voters in May of 2022.
“It will be good to have more space,” Snyder said. “I’m so excited.”
Annie Stabinski, special education teacher at Grayling High School and RoboVikes mentor, said the group is trying to start a robotics program at the elementary school that would involve LEGO building.
“So that way we have robotics in all three buildings,” Stabinski said.
McBride said having younger students getting involved in robotics gives the RoboVikes a “pipeline” of participants for the future.

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806

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