2018-04-07 / News

Great Lakers Robotics Team Earns Judges Award at Competition

By Stephanie Fortino


The students learning to rivet, program, and even sew this year as part of the Great Lakers robotics team are (from left) Tristan Greenlee, Carmen de la Peña, Leon Sehoyan, Makenna Horricks, Aaron Riggs, Ella Cowell, Gabe Kromer, Trevor Pereny, and Nick Davis. The robotics competition is video game-themed this year, as the team’s robot (pictured at left in a plastic bag) must pick up power cubes (shown on the table) to score points. The students learning to rivet, program, and even sew this year as part of the Great Lakers robotics team are (from left) Tristan Greenlee, Carmen de la Peña, Leon Sehoyan, Makenna Horricks, Aaron Riggs, Ella Cowell, Gabe Kromer, Trevor Pereny, and Nick Davis. The robotics competition is video game-themed this year, as the team’s robot (pictured at left in a plastic bag) must pick up power cubes (shown on the table) to score points. After months of planning and building, Mackinac Island’s Robotics Team 5878, the Great Lakers, will compete at the district competition at Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in Sault Ste. Marie Thursday, April 5, through Saturday, April 7. By teaching how to react quickly and make changes on the fly, FIRST Robotics teaches the students a variety of skills. The theme for this year’s FIRST Robotics competition is “Power Up,” and all high school robotics teams throughout the country have to design a robot capable of completing a variety of arcade-and video-game themed challenges.


The Great Lakers participate in a game at Gaylord in March. Pictured are (from left) Nick Davis, Alex Henlin, Tristan Greenlee, Aaron Riggs, and Tom Corrigan, who has helped program the robot this year. (Mackinac Island Public School photograph) The Great Lakers participate in a game at Gaylord in March. Pictured are (from left) Nick Davis, Alex Henlin, Tristan Greenlee, Aaron Riggs, and Tom Corrigan, who has helped program the robot this year. (Mackinac Island Public School photograph) The Great Lakers made their first appearance in competition this year at Gaylord Thursday, March 15, through Saturday, March 17. After playing 12 matches, the team finished in 25th place out of 40 teams. Complicated by mechanical problems, the team worked to fix the robot while keeping a positive attitude throughout, earning the Great Lakers the Judge’s Award.

Island teachers Gregg Neville and Susan Bennett teach the robotics class, and community members like Tom Corrigan also help the team. Mr. Corrigan has been very helpful with the FRCspecific computer code, since he works as a professional computer programmer. And new this year, Mrs. Bennett said, is that the coaches haven’t accompanied the students in the pit during games, forcing them to make decisions on their own in high-pressure games.


At left: Members of the Island’s robotics team, including Aaron Riggs (right), work quickly on their robot during a game at Gaylord in March. (Mackinac Island Public School photograph) At left: Members of the Island’s robotics team, including Aaron Riggs (right), work quickly on their robot during a game at Gaylord in March. (Mackinac Island Public School photograph) This year’s team mostly includes rookies, she continued, as only three members have been with the team since its beginning four years ago, including senior Nick Davis, junior Aaron Riggs, and junior Alex Henlin. The three were also part of the robotics team that made it to the world championship three years ago. Several of the new members participated in the LEGO robotics team and FIRST Tech Challenge while in elementary and middle school. Sophomore Makenna Horricks decided to join the team this year because she knows the activity will help strengthen her college application.

During a game, the teams try to place power cubes on a scale, and for each second the scale is tipped in their favor, the Great Lakers receive a point. The objective is to score as many points as possible, Nick said.

Games require the students to think on their feet and strategize, said senior member Gabe Kromer. During each match, three teams form an alliance to play against three other teams. During their previous competition in Gaylord, the Great Lakers played 12 games throughout the threeday weekend. Points throughout the competition are cumulative, and teams are ranked according to their overall score. Their first match at Gaylord only featured two teams on each alliance, which hurt their overall score, since more robots in action mean more points can be earned.

The Great Lakers has 16 points going into the district competition at Lake Superior State University. To qualify for the state competition, teams must earn 68 points, which will be difficult for them to achieve, Aaron said.

While they likely won’t make it to states, the Great Lakers have won an award at every competition, he pointed out.

Aaron described himself as the team’s “salesman and wrench guy,” saying, “Usually we win them over with the sappy Island story, which Nick and I have down to a T.”

The story includes how the team must prepare for the competition. Unlike other teams, their robot must split in two pieces to fit into a small airplane, which many times is the only option for transportation off the Island in the winter. Sometimes this can be a detriment. In Gaylord, the bolts that hold the robot together loosened up and caused parts of the robot’s aluminum frame to bend, presenting another challenge to overcome.

“We have to think outside the box to get things” to competitions, Aaron said, which often wins over the judges.

Robotics also exposes the students to new skills, including riveting and sewing. Freshmen Leon Sehoyan and Trevor Pereny learned to make a pattern and sew the robot’s bumpers with help from teacher Liz Burt. The bumpers are made of a wooden frame filled with pool noodles and covered in fabric.

Guided by a joystick that is operated by a student driver, the robot features a lifting mechanism that functions like a forklift. Driven by inertia, the device flops down when the robot stops quickly, and then controls move it up and down when grabbing the power cubes. Arms of the device hold the cubes and carry them to the scoring areas.

Halfway through the Gaylord competition, a chain came loose on the robot, which caused the whole frame to bend, the students recalled. Those in the pit had to act quickly, and installed a diagonal crossbeam on the back to add strength. The robot also didn’t drive straight, so the students acted quickly and sent more power to one of its motors to propel it in a straight line.

The Great Lakers learned much about the strengths and weaknesses of their robot during the Gaylord competition. The team only had six hours before the LSSU competition to make improvements to the robot, which is the same for all schools participating. According to the rules, the robot must be set aside when students aren’t allowed to work on it, although some parts can be left out for the students to tinker with.

The robot struggled to pick up power cubes, Gabe said, which are empty milk crates inside a nylon cover that must be collected to earn points. The wheels that draw the cubes in were too slippery, he said, and the robot dropped the cubes. New wheels made from a different material with more grip were added to the lifting mechanism in time for the LSSU competition. Freshman Ella Cowell also noted that the claw was too loose and couldn’t grab the power cubes, so tighter rubber bands, which are made of surgical tubing, were added to increase tension.

Freshman Tristan Greenlee, who is a rookie this year, works on programming the robot. A change he made in time for LSSU was switching some of the controls to make them more userfriendly.

A camera to aid in picking up power cubes was also added.

The competitions are enjoyable, the students said, and allows them to meet other students from across the state. They often trade small trinkets, like 3-D-printed toys. The Great Lakers pass out buttons designed and made by first-year member junior Carmen de la Pena.

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