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It was a good year for Upper School robotics rookies

16773034399_b3486546d1_oIn a state where it seems half the counties carry the “Automation Alley” label,  it should come as no surprise that there are more high school robotics teams in Michigan than any other state.

What might come as a surprise is when a “First Robotics” team such as Greenhills’, competing against nearly 400 other Michigan teams, comes within a whisker of qualifying for the state championships and earns a couple of all-star awards—all in its very first year.

The Greenhills Lawnmowers, comprising about 25 Upper School students and advised by math teacher Alex Monte-Sano, designed, financed, and built a robot tailored to this year’s competition in just six weeks. Part of the challenge is the timeframe—teams create their machines to match First Robotics’ annual tasking, which this year involved stacking up recycling containers with garbage cans on top.

16276397058_474c95ef3c_oThe resultant machine, a 6-foot, 6-inch 120-pound flyweight powered by a motorcycle battery and controlled through a wi-fi router, took about 1,000 student hours to build.

Creating the robot is only one step. Students then need to learn how to control it, making sure that it properly performs the tasks it was designed for. Competitions showcase that performance, with the Lawnmowers traveling this year to tournaments in Howell and Livonia.

The team qualified 18th out of 40 at Howell and played into the quarterfinals, Monte-Sano said—quite an accomplishment for a first-year team. The Lawnmowers also took the Rookie Inspiration Award for their eagerness to spread the word about STEM among their classmates.

At Livonia, the team qualified 24th out of 40—the second-best rookie team by less than a point—and also won the Rookie All-Star Award.

“Who knew that a team from a small school, with near zero budget, no build space, and little previous experience could be as competitive as we were?” Monte-Sano said. “We nearly doubled our average score from the first competition.”

Monte-Sano also singled out three parents—Jau-wen Tseng, Tom Quinn, and Gopal Chamarthi—for their assistance in building the robot. But the dominant force behind the team’s success, he said, was the students themselves.

“The thing that sticks with me most is the student ownership of the team,” Monte-Sano said. “During the second competition, I think I applied a few pieces of tape and maybe held a wrench; the students did the rest—they worked out strategy, made fixes, managed batteries, made software changes, and earned every point they scored.”

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.