By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW – Following their successful first season as a robotics team, Riverview Community High School students met Sept. 16 with Seitz Middle School students interesting in forming their own teams.
RCHS Supt. Russell Pickell said in addition to initiating middle school robotics teams, he hopes to offer robotics as an after-school enrichment activity at the district’s three elementary schools, Forest, Huntington and Memorial, as well.
“Robotics teams provide an exciting anchor to our STEM program in the district,” Pickell said.
STEM, the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, represents how schools offer additional classes in these areas to become more competitive in technology education.
At Seitz, 17800 Kennebec, veteran high school team members Sajid Islam, 15, a sophomore from Woodhaven, and senior Anthony Picciuto, 17, of Riverview, along with new team member, junior Dylan Kissel, 16, of Riverview, joined advisor and Riverview School Board member Sean Filkins and 15 interested Seitz students Sept. 16 to demonstrate a robot and explain how robotics teams work.
Filkins explained the work involved, how students prepare for competitions and what the events entail, using videos to show what student-programmed robots can accomplish in competition.
Picciuto said robotics teams give students a chance to learn about technology while still in school.
“I think it is important because the way that everything is moving these days is toward technology, and more automated,” Picciuto said. “So to get the kids familiar with technology before they are thrown into it in the real world is a nice thing to do.”
Picciuto, who hopes to study robotics computer science or networking or cyber security in college, said as a team member last year he learned a lot from his teammates and through exposure to the program.
Islam, who would like to study electrical engineering or a computer science in college, said he became interested in robotics because of the mechanical and building aspects, and the mental creativity the tasks demand. He said he also likes learning how to use different tools when they assemble the robotic components.
He said their robotics team went to two 12-round For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology robotic competitions last year, and had six wins and six losses at both, which he said was very good for their rookie year.
Founded in 1989, the mission of FIRST, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity, is to inspire children to be science and technology leaders through mentor-based programs. FIRST also offers Lego and tech challenges. For more information, go to usfirst.org.
Filkins said the high school robotics team’s success attracted enough new members to double its size for its second year, and he believes the middle school has enough interest among the students to support two 10-person teams.
He said grants from the state and corporate donations help the teams get the materials they need to learn and compete.
Filkins said the robots are not remote controlled toys. Students use controllers for some robotic tasks, but other times, they program robots to operate in autonomous mode, and when they turn on the robot, it must think for itself to perform the task.
Seventh-grader Nicklas Millhorn, 12, of Riverview said he joined the robotics team because he thought it would be fun to learn new things, and he thought it would sharpen his science skills.
“I like hands-on, I like building robots, and working with team members,” Millhorn said.
Sixth-grader Jacob Bowen, 11, of Lincoln Park joined the team because he thinks robots are “cool,” especially the way they work by themselves.
“Maybe in the future (robots) can help people drive their cars, and maybe work for the military as backup,” Bowen said. “Sometimes you don’t even need a person at all. They can just be sitting there, with doughnuts, and the robot will be moving around doing stuff.”
Seventh-grader Zachary Kropp, 13, of Riverview said he has basic programming skills that he would like to put to use.
Eighth-grader Denny Trudell, 13, of Riverview said he already has strong coding skills, and he joined the robotics team because he believes it will give him a jumpstart on becoming an electrical engineer.
Chauhdri said he is looking forward to programming robots to perform competition tasks, which include sports-like events where robots physically maneuver around other robots to achieve tasks like shooting a whiffle ball into a basket.
“It would probably be fun to make (the robots) smash into other robots and stop them from throwing the wiffle balls in,” Chauhdri said.
Millhorn agrees that being on the robotics team will be fun.
“You don’t really have to be a nerd to join it,” Millhorn said. “I play sports – I’m not really a nerd.”
“Being a nerd is cool,” Filkins interjected. “A key component of it is it is open to everybody. With as many tasks that need to be performed, if someone likes programming, they are going to be able to program. If someone likes to build, they are going to be able to build. If someone likes to do computer-aided design, they are going to be able to do computer-aided design.”
Filkins said almost half of the high school team’s members are girls, and they have at least two girls on the middle school team.
“It encompasses so many different things,” Filkins said. “Each kid can kind of pick what they want to do, and they can specialize in that.”
“It’s a good program, and it’s available for anybody,” Picciuto said. “You don’t have to have special or prior knowledge. It is just a fun, get-together group. There is no penalty for not knowing anything. It’s a good learning experience and a lot of fun.”