“It’s a lot of fun. In normal years, a lot of alumni students are mentoring the high school students. We get to come in and have a hands-on look at the game pieces and see it’s a lot bigger than it looked on the screen.”
The FIRST Robotics Competition season kicked off January 9 followed by the annual Robot in Three Days Challenge, but unlike previous years, Kettering University’s FIRST Robotics Community Center wasn’t packed with high school students eager to learn what this year’s challenge will be and attend workshops hosted by FIRST alumni. Instead, a handful of Kettering students safely and responsibly gathered to livestream the challenge with the help of FIRST Updates Now.
The challenge consists of building the robot FIRST Robotics teams will use for the competition season in three days instead of several weeks.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Luke Fenstermacher (’22, ME). “In normal years, a lot of alumni students are mentoring the high school students. We get to come in and have a hands-on look at the game pieces and see it’s a lot bigger than it looked on the screen.”
He said the event gives the high school students more insight into their builds.
This year’s FIRST Robotics Competition will be an extension of last year’s, as teams only competed for a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Some of the rules and challenges were modified and adapted for at-home play, but the overall goal is to build a robot that can pick up medium-sized foam dodge balls and get them in various goals for points. Teams will be able to use the same robot.
Bob Nichols, FIRST Robotics Community Center Director, said he hopes to be able to offer the center’s field for teams to complete their challenges.
“If we get the opportunity to do some in-person competitions, we can do one team at a time or three teams, depending on how many we can have at a time,” he said.
Teams who watched the weekend’s livestream emailed questions and comments or sent messages via social media as the Kettering students completed the build.
“It was pretty cool to tangibly have that ‘Oh wow, this kind of makes a difference in other people’s seasons,” Fenstermacher said. “It may not be hands-on, directly mentoring face-to-face, but it is having an impact.”
Two years ago, Kettering hosted the first Robot in Three Days Collegiate Competition of its kind. Kettering’s robot won last year’s competition, hosted at Ferris State University.
Once this year’s robot was complete, the team ran through challenges with it against last year’s robot. Viewers chimed in on which robot they thought would win the challenges. Having had more time to make tweaks, last year’s robot took much of the honors.
Though this year was different, the students said the build turned out better than they expected.
“I really wasn’t sure what I was expecting,” said Benjamin Kocik (’21, CE). “… I looked at the old Robot in Three Days coverage, and I think we probably hit about the same. That’s excellent for (FIRST Updates Now’s) first time at Kettering and it being a pandemic.”
Teams can access the videos from the build by visiting youtube.com/c/FirstUpdatesNow/videos.