EATON — Robots-R-Us — FIRST Robotics Team 3266 — won the 2020 Miami Valley Regional competition on Saturday, Feb. 29. They were going to compete at the FIRST Championship at the end of April, but FIRST ended their season early due to COVID-19.
Robots-R-Us is a robotics team based out of Eaton and surrounding area high schools. They aim to inspire kids to pursue a career path in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and related fields. Each year, they participate in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition by building and programming a robot to compete in a game they learn at the beginning of each build session, which is only six weeks long.
According to Team Captain Matthew Back, this year the team was tasked with picking up dodge balls and shooting them into goals to complete their game. There is a high and a low goal, with the high goal worth more points. The team also had to climb by lifting the robot off the ground and grabbing a bar to hang. This “end game” would get the team a lot of points in a small amount of time.
The Week One event was a Thursday through Saturday regional competition. Following qualification matches, Robots-R-Us ranked 16th. They then got picked for the number two alliance. After the alliances were set, they got moved into a bracket to see who won. They went 6-0 in their bracket and won the 2020 Miami Valley Regional Competition.
Back added, if you win a regional competition, you have a “straight shot” to the World Championship at the end of the season.
Next the team was supposed to compete at a Week Five event in Cleveland at the end of March. Following, they were going to the World Championship at the end of April to compete.
“The competition was so much fun, because I got to go around and meet so many new people and I got to speak with mentors from other teams that do huge things in the real world,” Team member Hannah Wysong said. “Everybody on the team is really nice and this is my first year and they really welcomed me immediately.”
Senior Mentor Bob Unruh said the team is good under pressure and their agriculture background actually makes them better at building – and fixing – robots.
“One of the neat things about the kids, they are not the stereotypical nerdy type kids. We’re in Rural America, 90 percent of our kids are farm or Ag related. They’re good at fixing things, because if they’re out in the field and need to fix something, they need to fix it now. I’m not saying all of them are farm related, but I do remember two or three years in a row we had a bunch of members on the 4-H team as well as this.
“The nice thing about these kids is, when we’re building the robots sometimes we forget they are 15 or 16 years old. They act like the adult in the room. They are making the right decisions and we give them the latitude to do that. One thing I’ve always like to say about our team: don’t tell them it can’t be done, especially when they are already doing it.”
Unruh also gushed about team captain Back, calling him a “giant sponge.”
“He learned quick and he was probably one of the reasons why – if not the reason why – we did well at regionals. He is one of the better drivers as well,” he said.
Wysong added, “I learned a lot shadowing [Back].”
Unruh explained, the younger team members “shadow” and learn from the older team members to pass the torch.
Back talked about being a part of FIRST and the impact it has made on his life.
“Going into FIRST I didn’t have a lot of mechanical skills or talking skills, but as my role has changed throughout the years, I’ve really learned to talk to people, express my ideas, all while learning simple skills. With the robotics team, a lot of kids, being as young as Freshmen, don’t have hand skills yet – they don’t know righty tighty, lefty loosey in a sense. Not all kids grow up in that environment,” he said.
“Being in FIRST really helps you get out there, learn how to express your ideas, how to speak, how to work mechanically with your hands, and help your people skills. I’ve made so many friends through FIRST, I’ve met thousands of students.”
They are preparing for the next round by fixing things that broke on their robot during the previous competition. They also are working on improving key elements of their robots, including their shooter (which was slow) and their climber (which started seizing up and refusing to move during competition).
Sponsors of Robots-R-Us include Eaton Computer, Henny Penny, The Garden, Belden Inc., Lowman HVAC Inc., Andrew Gaydosh, Simon Deem Agency, Larkin Cobb, and Parker Hannifin.
Upon learning of the cancellation of the season, Back said, “I sit here having just received the news that FIRST has decided to cancel the 2020 robotics season. As a senior and team captain of 3266 this year I am devastated that this had to be the outcome.
“Our students put so much work in this year and I am proud of every single one of them. This year we had achieved something that is rare for a small team; we qualified for the world championship and had an amazing bot to compete with. In my four years we had never even been close to this achievement and to finally qualify and have it taken away hurts.
“I would like to thank all of this years sponsors for believing in us and hope that for years to come they will. Finally I would like to thank Bob Unruh for this wonderful opportunity over the past 11 years he has guided and been lead mentor of the team helping push us to greatness every year.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH