A 2023 FIRST Robot at Kettering University.

Working out of Kettering allows us access to a build space and machine shop that we could never have access to on our own.”

Robo-Raptors Mentor Patty Camp

Four teams based at the Kettering University Robotics Community Center are heading to the FIRST in Michigan State Championship presented by DTE Foundation that kicks off today.

“Congratulations to the hardworking teams at the state championship and beyond,” said Kim Shumaker, Robotics Community Center and Outreach Director at Kettering University. “We are proud the Kettering University Robotics Community Center is home to these top-notch teams.”

Teams have six weeks to design, build and prepare their industrial-sized robots for a field game against robots from other teams. Ten teams work out of the Robotics Community Center at Kettering University.

District events across Michigan occur over six weeks, with three to five events per week. 

The four teams advancing to the state competition April 6-8 in Saginaw are:

  • Team 1506 Metal Muscle (Community Team, Flint)
  • Team 5612 Robo-Raptors (Bentley Community High School, Burton)
  • Team 5660 Symmetrical Chaos (Atherton High School, Burton)
  • Team 9237 Swartz Creek Dragonators (Swartz Creek High School, Swartz Creek)

The 9,600-square-foot Robotics Community Center opened in 2014. It features machining and designing areas, a regulation-size practice field and bays for teams to store equipment.

Team 1506 Metal Muscle
Team 1506 Metal Muscle

“There are many benefits to working in the Robotics Community Center, most of which is access to the machine shop, along with a full field to practice on,” said Don Ridge, lead mentor for Metal Muscle. “The other big benefit is the sharing of ideas and the ability to help other teams in the Center.”

Metal Muscle has been working with Kettering for more than a decade. Mechanical Engineering Professor Dr. Henry “Doc K” Kowalski was one of the team’s early founders.

“We are happy and excited to be going to States,” Ridge said. “Going to States and Worlds annually is an expectation for our team.”

This is the second consecutive year Symmetrical Chaos has qualified for the state championship. The team more than doubled in size from 2022 to 2023, going from four to 11 members.

“We’re very excited but nervous,” said Everett Owen, team mentor. “We’ve been through a lot of challenges this season, and we still managed to overcome them and make it to states.”

Team 5660 Symmetrical Chaos
Team 5660 Symmetrical Chaos

He said the team’s inexperience and coding the robot were significant obstacles. But, working out of the Robotics Community Center has been a big help,

Owen said, citing access to the machine shop, computer lab, meeting spaces and practice field. Being close to other teams is a bonus because they exchange advice, share supplies and promote collaboration, he said.

Robo-Raptors Mentor Patty Camp also said the interaction with other teams at the Robotics Community Center is important.  

“Working out of Kettering allows us access to a build space and machine shop that we could never have access to on our own,” she said. “More importantly, it allows the camaraderie, the exchange of parts, ideas and support we share with the other teams who build in the Center.”

Before moving to the Robotics Community Center, the Robo-Raptors worked out of a small classroom in their school with borrowed hand tools, “using the hallway to test the robot,” she said.

Team 5612 Robo-Raptors
Team 5612 Robo-Raptors

Like Symmetrical Chaos, this is the Robo-Raptors’ second time attending the state championship. The team’s biggest challenges were working around supply-chain issues, parts shortages and delivery delays.

“Our inability to get some of the parts we needed forced us to use valuable build time to change our design to accommodate available parts,” Camp said.

This year’s championship challenge, called CHARGED UP, tasks teams with using their robots to bring game pieces back to their respective sides of the competition area. In the first 15 seconds of the match, robots operate autonomously. Drivers control the robots during the remaining two minutes and 15 seconds. Teams earn bonus points when their robots dock or engage with their charging stations. 

Teams earned rankings points to determine who qualified for the state championship. Top teams will move on to the 2023 FIRST Championship presented by BAE Systems in Houston on April 19-22. 

In addition, some awards automatically qualified a team for the state championship, which is the case for the Swartz Creek Dragonators. The team won the Rookie All-Star Award, which celebrates the rookie team that exemplifies a young but strong partnership effort as well as the mission of FIRST to inspire students to learn more about science and technology. The team will not compete with its robot at states. Instead, judges interview teams and rank them against other rookie teams that qualified at district events. The team that wins at the state championship will then compete with its robot in Texas.

The Dragonators also won a Rookie Inspiration Award, which celebrates a rookie team’s outstanding success in advancing respect and appreciation for engineering and engineers within its school and community.

“The Dragonators faced many challenges as rookies. They had a plan and executed that plan,” said Cole Shumaker, mechanical mentor. “But, delivery delays of parts slowed the progress of the build down quite a bit. However, the team is committed and managed to overcome the delays. Winning the Rookie All-Star and Rookie Inspiration awards was exciting. The students look forward to competing at the state championship for the Rookie All-Star Award.”

Kettering University began sponsoring FIRST Robotics high school teams in 1998. The University offered its first two scholarships to FIRST Robotics students in 1999 and has awarded more than $5.5 million since then.