Boyne City Blaze among Michigan robotics teams competing at LSSU

old blaze robotics photo

From Dundee in the southern lower peninsula, to Stephenson in the western upper peninsula, 41 teams from all corners of Michigan converge on Sault Ste. Marie this weekend for a FIRST Robotics district tournament, hosted by Lake Superior State University.

Lake State’s 2016 FIRST Stronghold robotics competition runs Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 in the James L. Norris Center’s Taffy Abel Arena, just off the corner of Meridian St. and West Easterday Ave., kitty-corner from LSSU’s main entrance.

In all, organizers expect to attract up to 2,000 contestants and their families along with support staff form home high schools.

The acronym FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” The program uses robotics to encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Participating teams are allowed six weeks to brainstorm, design, and build a fully functional wheeled robot the size of a large dog that can accomplish an assigned task. In this year’s challenge, the robots must cross eight different obstacles, then carry and launch 10-inch diameter foam balls into towers on opposite sides of the field.

This year’s theme, “Stronghold,” consists of alliances of three teams trying to penetrate their opponents’ fortress, weaken their defenses with boulders, and capture the opposing tower. The game was revealed on January 9, which gave teams approximately six weeks to build a robot to compete in the competitions.

FIRST Stronghold is played on a 27- by 54-foot field by two alliances of three teams each. One alliance is red, the other is blue. Each alliance has control of one tower, a “secret passage” to restock their ammunition (called boulders), and five defense sections consisting of: a permanently placed low bar, three sections chosen by the alliance prior to the start of the match, and one section which changes periodically by audience selection.

Each match begins with a 15-second autonomous period in which robots operate independent of human control, with only pre- programmed instructions. During this period, robots attempt to cross opposing defenses and score in the opposing tower.

During the remaining two minutes and 15 seconds of the match, called the “teleop” period, robots are controlled by student drivers from behind their castle wall at the end of the field. Teams on an alliance work together to cross defenses, weaken the opposing tower by scoring boulders in it, and finally surround, scale, and capture the tower.

Eastern Upper Peninsula teams include the Instigators from Sault Ste. Marie, the Deceivers from Brimley High School, the Tahquamenon Phenomenon from Newberry, and the Ojibwe Bots from the Ojibwe Charter School, Brimley.

Representing the northern Lower Peninsula are the Petoskey Paladins, the Boyne City Blaze, the Elks from Elk Rapids, Red Devil Robotics from East Jordan, Ice Bots from Pellston, ChiefBots of Cheboygan, the Cybertronic Lancers from Ellsworth, and two teams from Alpena, the Enlightened Des-Bots and Wildcat Robotics.

From the central Upper Peninsula are Cold Logic from Marquette, Ishpeming’s Westend Gearbusters, and Minerbotics from Negaunee. The western UP contingent includes M.A.R.C. 1 from Menominee, the Stephenson Eagles, and Mech Tech from Powers.

Opening ceremonies will commence at 10:30 a.m. Friday, with matches scheduled from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Saturday, opening ceremonies will start at 9 a.m., with the remaining qualification matches beginning at 9:30 a.m. and play-off matches from 2 to 5 p.m., concluding with an awards ceremony. Click here for the event program.

All ages are welcome to attend this family-friendly event, and there is no admission charge. Visitors are welcome to drop by anytime and stay as long as they want.

“This is the first year that LSSU has hosted a FIRST Robotics competition on our campus,” says lead LSSU event organizer Jeanne Shibley. “Robotics is a center of excellence at Lake Superior State University. We are one of the top public universities in the United States with an industrial automated robotics systems specialization at the undergraduate level. Companies involved in robotics and automation specifically seek out our graduates.”

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) recognizes LSSU’s robotics and automation laboratory as one of the most complete and advanced of its kind in the country.

Lake State has also been hosting FIRST LEGO League qualifying tournaments since 2009.

Run a Web search for “LSSU engineering” to learn more about studying engineering and technology at LSSU.