Kettering University’s Metal Muscle FIRST Robotics team takes first place in international competition in China

Kettering University’s Metal Muscle, FIRST Robotics Team 1506, took first place this summer at their first International Invitational Competition in China.

Metal Muscle was in the winning alliance, alongside Team 694 StuyPulse and Team 5522 Stargazer, at the Qianjiang International Robotics Invitational in HangZhou. Metal Muscle was one of nine international teams invited the invitational.

“The experience was unbelievable. My goal was to have the students and mentors see and understand that all people are basically the same. We may come from different cultures, backgrounds, and governments, but we all love our families, have dreams, are passionate about things, like robotics,” said John Wolfert, executive coordinator for Kettering’s FIRST Robotics Community Center. “At the end everyone understood we are all much more alike than we are different. The goal is to do this every year with a set of six students, three mentors, and a representative from Kettering University.”  Metal Muscle holding the winning banner

On top of their own competition, Metal Muscle mentored a Chinese team during the Robotics Championship China immediately following the international invitational. Metal Muscle worked Team 9102 HangZhou Infinity Intelligence - H.I.I, which is considered a pre-rookie team, meaning they will compete as a rookie team next year.

Team 9102 also was in the winning alliance in their competition.

“Metal Muscle’s phenomenal success is a testament to Kettering University’s FIRST Community Center, an accomplishment of a true visionary, Dr. Robert McMahan, and successful operation by Mr. Bob Nichols,” said Dr. Henry “Doc K” Kowalski, professor emeritus and founding faculty mentor of Metal Muscle. “As the center's anchor team, Metal Muscle's diversity, mentor dedication, parental support, continuous improvement, and synergy between center teams contributed to its world-renowned accomplishment.”

There were many memorable moments for Metal Muscle team member Charles Buffington during their trip to China. Among this favorite memories was working with the pre-rookie teams, he said.

“Seeing the team we worked with have nothing but a single mentor and basic FIRST Robotics Documentation should be an inspiration to all FIRST rookie teams that with time and dedication you can succeed. The biggest thing that I learned is that overcoming obstacles that people, family, or government may put in front of you, is key to finding who you are,” said Buffington, a student at Genesee Christian School in Burton, Michigan. “I felt quite ecstatic being in the winning alliance, definitely a moment I will never forget. And seeing team 9102 being picked by the number one seed and winning the China Robotics Competition made the team as a whole beam with pride. I am sure it is a moment they will never forget.”

When the team arrived at the International Competition, there were many similarities to the competitions at Kettering University. They helped put the field together, they met with other teams and learned from each other, and they had fun. It also was very different in the sense that they were in a culture they were unfamiliar with, and they had some language barriers.

“At times the communication process was difficult, but then again it is preparing us for the world just as FIRST has been doing from the start,” said Buffington, who has been a part of Metal Muscle for two years.

Tori Bradburn ‘23, a Metal Muscle alumni, accompanied the team on the trip to China, which was an unforgettable experience, she said. Helping a Chinese pre-rookie team and seeing them be so happy to win a competition really impacted her and the team, she said.

“It was really incredible. We got to see so many teams we had never seen before and never would have gotten to if it weren't for this trip,” said Bradburn, a Mechanical Engineering major at Kettering. “I just want to thank Kettering and everyone else who donated to our trip. Without them none of this would have been possible, and I will never forget it. It was a great experience for all of us to see a whole new culture and do what we love during it.”

The team made the best of everything, Wolfert said. They even had some time to do some sightseeing and learn more about the history and culture in China. The team walked up a mountain and saw a 1,000-foot waterfall, walked through a bamboo forest, and ate traditional Chinese meals.

They learned a lot about a different culture, but ultimately learned that people are people, Wolfert said.

“The team’s success in their competition and with the pre-rookie team says a couple of things. One thing it says is that we have taken what we’ve learned and were able to guide and help new teams. We let them do most of the work because we wanted them to be able to work with kinks and debug it. We kept it simple,” Wolfert said. “The team took a pragmatic approach to helping other teams. We wanted them to be able to learn and take away what they learned and be able to apply it next year and be able to compete.

“It also showed Metal Muscle team members’ adaptability and creative problem solving skills. And even though they could speak some English, communication was an issue. The team came through like a shining star.”