Robots Take Local Companies To Florida

April 12, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Robots made their annual trip into town and into the Grand Center recently to compete in the Western Michigan Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. Three area high schools partnered with local companies to compete and bring home awards for their school.

With its mission to “change the culture of the U.S.” through science and engineering, FIRST held the second annual West Michigan regional competition and awarded top honors to Holland Public High School, Zeeland High School and Holland Christian High School.

Numerous local companies were involved, including Haworth Inc., Town & Country Group, Gentex, MetalFlow Group, Johnson Controls and X-Rite Inc. As part of the competition, teams comprised of students and representatives from the local companies were asked to construct a robot out of designated parts. The robots then had to perform specific tasks to earn points.

“The robots had to be able to take balls and move them to another location, move and keep balls in a designated area, move baskets and numerous other things,” said Paul Dickensheets, vice president of engineering operations at Johnson Controls. “It was up to the team what aspects they wanted to focus on and what aspects they wanted their robots to excel in.”

Dickensheets and Johnson Controls worked with West Ottawa High School in Holland. The team did not bring home a regional award, but he said they look to make some design changes and give other contestants a run for their money at the national championships in Orlando.

The competition features two teams matched against each other that try to score points within a set amount of time, with the team garnering the most points being declared the winner.

Dickensheets said the process is completely random. Sometimes a team is lucky and paired against a robot that complements its weaknesses, while other times weaknesses are equal and less points are scored.

“That is how the real world is, though. You try a project, test it and sometimes changes need to be made in order for it to excel,” he said. “By making certain design changes, the West Ottawa team hopes to make a go again and bring home some awards at the national competition. You have to learn these things from an engineering standpoint and make sacrifices and decide what is important to focus on in the development.”

Johnson Controls did take home the Outstanding Volunteer Award for the West Michigan region. Metal Flow and Holland Christian High School were awarded The Xerox Creativity Award, an award celebrating creative design, creative use of a component or a creative or unique strategy of play. The team also won the Johnson & Johnson Sportsmanship Award, recognizing outstanding sportsmanship and continuous gracious professionalism in the heat of competition, both on and off the playing field.

The Regional Chairman’s Award, the highest award given, recognizes the team that best accomplishes the FIRST mission to change the culture of the U.S. That honor went to Haworth Inc. and Holland Public High School. The Engineering Inspiration Award was awarded to Town & Country Group, ITW, Drawform, Plascore, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Gentex, Metal-Flow Corp., Viking Co., Request Foods and Zeeland High School.

At least 46 teams have qualified for the national competition this year and will be traveling on April 25 to Orlando.           

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