Technology builds muscle

Feb 3, 2006

A data acquisition system will help the Kettering sponsored Metal Muscle beef up.

Metal Muscle may sound like a heavy metal rock group or a body building competition, but its really 19 high school students, from four high schools in Groveland and Oakland counties, who make up the Kettering University sponsored FIRST Robotics team.

The FIRST Robotics Competition is a multinational competition that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem in an intense and competitive way. In 2006, the competition will reach over 28,000 high-school-aged young people on over 1,125 teams in 33 regional events.

The Metal Muscle team, founded and mentored by Kettering students, was recently chosen as one of 36 out of 1,100 FIRST Robotics teams to receive a multi-function data acquisition system (DAQ) from National Instruments, representing $8,000 worth of software and $2,000 worth of hardware.

The DAQ will allow the team to analyze such things as temperature, torque, speed and voltage in their robot for prototyping next year's robot, according to Alex McGee, of Ortonville, Mich. National Instruments awarded the DAQs through a grant competition for FIRST teams.

The team is excited about the prospect of using the DAQ to improve their design. "It will help us develop next year's robot based on this year's model," McGee said. McGee is one of the four founders of Metal Muscle. The others include Monica Denis, of Clarkston, Mich. Nick Denis, of Clarkston, and Brendan Hathaway, of Rochester, Mich. The team has since added two members, Tim Searles, of Muskegon, Mich., and Spence Steed, of Los Angeles.

The original four were all involved in FIRST Robotics in high school and decided to use their experience and growing expertise as engineering students to mentor a team. They chose to target schools that did not have FIRST teams and formed Metal Muscle in 2004. The schools include: Oakland Christian, Chippewa Valley, Notre Dame Prep and Stony Creek.

"It is the first ALL-Kettering sponsored team," according to Monica Denis. Kettering had co-sponsored another team previously, but the Metal Muscle team is entirely mentored and managed by Kettering students.

With 19 members (not including the mentors), the team is relatively small by FIRST standards. The mentors see this as a plus. "It allows everyone to participate in every aspect," said Denis. "The team is small enough that the kids do all the design and build work, we just give guidance," she added.

Working on weekends, the team has six weeks to design and build a 130 pound robot and ship it to a central holding place prior to competitions. The Metal Muscle team will compete in regional FIRST events held in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Atlanta, beginning mid-February.

With one of the four original mentors set to graduate (Nick Denis), and the other three moving into their senior year, the Metal Muscle mentors hope to cultivate some of the current team members as future team mentors. "It's one of our goals to have post grads of the team come to Kettering and take over as mentors," said Monica Denis. "We already have one team grad who came to Kettering," she said, "and three out of our five seniors this year have said they want to come to Kettering."

The 'grow-your-own' philosophy will help Metal Muscle to continue to flex its might at FIRST in the coming years - with a little help from their new DAQ.

Written by Dawn Hibbard