Michigan sent the most FIRST Robotics teams in the world to championshipsKalamazoo team comes out on top

More young engineers and programmers from Michigan competed in the FIRST international robotics competitions than any other state in the nation—or any other country, for that matter.

And it was Kalamazoo’s Stryke Force that walked away as the winner. The team reports on its website that the championship was determined by best two out of three matches and Stryke Force decisively won the first match. The second match completed in an alliance with teams from San Jose, Calif.; Canton, Mich.; and Montvale, N.J. was a nail-biter, but the team came out ahead by three points. (Watch the finals here.)

“The stands immediately erupted once the numbers came out,” the team reports. “Tears mixed with laughing as the team contemplated how far we've come this season, and how hard we had worked to earn this fantastic distinction.”

The community is invited to meet the world champions at a community open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 22-24, at Midlink, 3400 Tech Circle, Kalamazoo. Stryker, Midlink and the Kalamazoo County 4-H are their main sponsors.

Altogether, Southwest Michigan sent six teams to St. Louis April 26-29 for the championship competition that drew more than 15,000 students, ages 6 to 18, reports the FIRST website. The participants from Southwest Michigan are among more than 90 Michigan teams — which is more than California. More than China. More than Mexico.

More than, well, anywhere else.

“Michigan has always been a leader," says Bob Nichols, director of the FIRST Robotics Center at Kettering University. “For the new teams that have never been there before, this is just an awesome experience.”

Teams compete with their robots by completing a series of specific tasks, earning points along the way. The students use both automation and joystick-like controllers in loud, somewhat chaotic, head-to-head contests that draw thousands of people.

US FIRST was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

As part of the FIRST Robotic Competition, teams of high school students receive motors, batteries, a control system, a PC and a mix of automative components. No instructions on how to assemble a robot are included. Instead, teams work with mentors to build, design, program and test their robots over a six-week period.

The goal of the competition is to put the latest technology in the hands of students, and give them the opportunity to use the same tools as professional scientists and engineers and ultimately help them learn skills they could carry into the workplace.

Southwest Michigan teams that went to the St. Louis championships were:Michigan is buoyed by its manufacturing roots, deep sponsorships and a unique state program that provides grants to teams through the Michigan Department of Education. Created after Gov. Rick Snyder visited a state FIRST robotics competition, the grants fund stipends for team mentors and is designed to eliminate financial barriers to participation.

Robotics appeals to schools, parents, students, and businesses because there are $50 million in scholarships available nationwide, it applies classroom learning, feels like a varsity sport, and recruits students into high-demand fields.

“We are the only one doing this to this magnitude,” Alpert said.

“I’m celebrating what these teams accomplished, but also what they represent – that Michigan is the place for emerging talent in science and technology,” says Roger Curtis, director of the state Department of Talent and Economic Development, who attended the event. “FIRST competitions show students the real-word applications for these subjects, inspiring them to seek careers in these fields and help close our state’s talent gap.”

The St. Louis event drew teams from more than 40 countries and 65,000 attendees. The competition will be hosted by Detroit for the next three years.

Writers: Marjory Raymer, Kathy Jennings
Sources: FIRST in Michigan, Stryke Force
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