2017-04-08 / Top News

With Robot Ready, Great Lakers Begin Competition

Island Team Makes Playoffs, Wins Award
By Kevin R. Hess


The Great Lakers robotics team of Mackinac Island competed March 16 to March 18 in Escanaba. They qualified for the playoffs and earned the Engineering Inspiration Award for “advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school and community.” Pictured here with their trophy, plaque, and ribbons from their award are team members (from left) Christian Styburski, Alex Henlin, Nick Davis, and Talon Greenlee. (Photograph provided by Susan Bennett) The Great Lakers robotics team of Mackinac Island competed March 16 to March 18 in Escanaba. They qualified for the playoffs and earned the Engineering Inspiration Award for “advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school and community.” Pictured here with their trophy, plaque, and ribbons from their award are team members (from left) Christian Styburski, Alex Henlin, Nick Davis, and Talon Greenlee. (Photograph provided by Susan Bennett) The Mackinac Island Great Lakers robotics teamed learned a lot at their first competition

this season in Escanaba Thursday, March 16, to Saturday, March 18, and will make adjustments to their robot and

competition strategy before the next competition this week, Thursday, April 6, through Saturday, April 8. This year’s

team has a hard act to follow, as the 2016 team qualified for

the state and world championships in its first year of competition. The team wanted to push itself in terms of innovation and design this year, and try to do more with their robot than they did the first year. In 12 qualification matches in Escanaba, Mackinac Island compiled a record of 4 wins, 6 losses, and 2 ties and qualified 26th of 39 teams. The top eight teams automatically qualify for the playoffs.


The Great Lakers robotics team competed in Escanaba March 16 to March 18. They qualified 26th out of 39 teams and were chosen for the playoffs. They lost in their quarterfinal match to the eventual district champions. They will compete in their second event Thursday, April 6, to Saturday, April 8, in Shepherd. Pictured here are (from left) parent volunteer Julie Greenlee, coach Gregg Neville, Talon Greenlee, Christian Styburski, Nick Davis, Alex Henlin, mentors Allen Burt and Tom Corrigan, coach Susan Bennett, parent volunteer Deb Styburski, and mentor Dick Riel. (Photograph courtesy of Mackinac Island School) The Great Lakers robotics team competed in Escanaba March 16 to March 18. They qualified 26th out of 39 teams and were chosen for the playoffs. They lost in their quarterfinal match to the eventual district champions. They will compete in their second event Thursday, April 6, to Saturday, April 8, in Shepherd. Pictured here are (from left) parent volunteer Julie Greenlee, coach Gregg Neville, Talon Greenlee, Christian Styburski, Nick Davis, Alex Henlin, mentors Allen Burt and Tom Corrigan, coach Susan Bennett, parent volunteer Deb Styburski, and mentor Dick Riel. (Photograph courtesy of Mackinac Island School) The top team becomes an alliance captain and gets first choice for their alliance partners. An alliance consists of three teams. Some of the automatic qualifiers choose other automatic qualifiers for their alliance. When this happens, the next highest qualifier that has not yet been chosen becomes an alliance captain and chooses team members. This process continues until there are eight alliances of three teams each.

Mackinac Island did not automatically qualify for the playoffs at Escanaba, but they were chosen to be part of the eighth-seeded playoff alliance, captained by the Ewen Panthers. Ewen chose the Tahquamenon Phenomenon of Newberry as the third team. The alliance lost in the quarterfinals to the top-seeded alliance and eventual district champions.

This year’s game is called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Steamworks. The game includes shooting fuel (represented by plastic balls) into a boiler, delivering gears for rotors to an airship platform, and then climbing a rope to the platform. All of this happens in just 2.5 minutes. Teams earn points for each task they are able to perform. Sometimes, teams may focus on doing one or two things really well, as opposed to trying to accomplish everything. Because teams compete in alliances, they can decide what each team does best and work together to accumulate the most points and win the match. The Great Lakers focused mainly on delivering fuel and gears, but found it more difficult than they anticipated.

“After our first few matches, we realized that shooting fuel into the boiler was much harder than it looked and the return on points was minimal,” said Coach Susan Bennett. “In fact, most robots at the competition abandoned shooting and focused on climbing the airship (platform) and collecting gears to start the rotors.”

Teams work for six weeks designing and building their robots, but don’t know how well they will perform until they see them in action at the competition. Teams must be prepared to adjust their performance between matches. Time between matches is limited, so teams must work quickly to repair or adjust their robots. In fact, one of the robots at the Escanaba competition caught fire during a match, causing delays. Success in matches also depends upon a team’s ability to work well with other teams in their alliance. These, as well as other unforeseen circumstances, factor into a team’s ability to succeed.

In their first match, one team on the Great Lakers’ alliance had trouble with their robot and was unable to compete in that match, leaving the alliance with two robots instead of three. They also had some challenges with their mechanism that was designed to hold the gears.

“It worked,” Mrs. Bennett said, “but it wasn’t always easy to get the gears loaded onto the lift.”

Part way through the competition, the team redesigned the gear holder. They cut a hole in the back of it so their spring could go all the way through the gear, then added parts to stabilize the gear as it was dropped into the holder.

Communication is a big part of competition. Team members must communicate well with one another, as well as with the other teams in their alliance. In last year’s competition, only the driver interacted with the robot on the field during a match. This year, more team members got to play, making communication even more important. Christian Styburski was the driver of the robot. Nick Davis was the human player who slid gears onto the robot. Alex Henlin was on the airship platform, where his job was to hook the gear from the robot to the lift, raise the gear onto the airship, load it, and get the rotors turning. Talon Greenlee acted as a go-between for the other alliance teams during the match.

“This year’s competition required a lot more verbal and nonverbal communication between all of the team members on the alliance during play,” said Nick.

Christian had to rely on hand signals from the other players so he could get the robot into correct position each time. On one occasion, the Great Lakers incurred a penalty for having two gears on the robot, when rules state that robots can only have one gear at a time. Christian went to get a gear and it had fallen onto the robot. From his position, he could not see what happened, so he got another gear, incurring the penalty. The team also incurred a penalty when it shot fuel from a position on the field that was not allowed.

In addition to competing, teams are strongly encouraged to help other teams. This is a concept that FIRST calls Coopertition. Coopertition is “displaying unqualified kindness and respect in the face of fierce competition.” The Great Lakers had the opportunity to help two teams in Escanaba. In one situation, a team’s robot could not pass inspection. Mackinac Island’s mentors and team members helped with the electronics, fixing the structure of the robot, and getting the robot software updated on their computer.

“We also assisted one of our alliance teams for the finals to build a structure to hold a gear,” said Mrs. Bennett.

The Great Lakers are no strangers to coopertition. Last year, they were faced with the prospect of being disqualified when another team stepped up to help them. Not only were they able to compete, but they would eventually qualify for the state and world championships. Without coopertition, Mackinac Island would have likely missed out on those opportunities.

Teams qualify based on the number of points they are able to earn. Teams earn points during matches, by winning matches, and by qualifying for playoffs. Aside from head-to-head matches, teams can earn a variety of awards. Awards are given for innovation, safety, spirit, design, and more. The Great Lakers won the District Engineering Inspiration Award, given to teams who inspire engineering in their communities and push themselves to design and challenge themselves beyond just the competition at hand. According to the FIRST program, the Engineering Inspiration Award “celebrates outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering within a team’s school and community.” Each of Michigan’s 23 district events produces an Engineering Inspiration Award winner. The winners then compete verbally for the award at the state competition. Teams do not play with their robot unless it qualifies separately. The Engineering Inspiration Award winner at the state competition will then earn a spot at the world competition. In addition, NASA is sponsoring the registration fees to the 2017 FIRST Championship for teams who earn this award. FIRST Championship takes place in Houston, Texas, April 19 through April 22 or St. Louis, Missouri, April 26 through April 29. Registration for the event is $5,000.

Mentors Allen Burt, Tom Corrigan, and Dick Riel traveled with the Mackinac Island team to Escanaba, along with parent volunteers Julie Greenlee and Deb Styburski. Mr. Corrigan traveled from Glenview, Illinois, to be with the team. He has a residence on the Island, but his business, Apt Technologies, is based in Glenview. Mr. Corrigan helps the team with programming and software, either in person or online. Gregg Neville is the team’s other coach. Only four of the students were able to travel to the competition. Other team members include senior Chris Riggs, juniors Gabe Kromer and Grace Yakuber, sophomore Aaron Riggs, and freshman Hannah Styburski. The team is now preparing their robot for the next competition in Shepherd, Thursday, April 6, to Saturday, April 8.

“We decided that, to be more competitive, we would have to redesign our robot so it could climb the airship,” said Mrs. Bennett. “With the help of our mentors, we are designing and building something to add to the robot to perform this task. Because of the size and weight restrictions for the robot, we are planning to remove our shooter and the fuel intake system.”

With the adjustments, the team hopes to be more successful, and to qualify again for the state finals, held at Saginaw Valley State University in Saginaw, Wednesday, April 12, to Saturday, April 15.

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