Michigan: Robots on a Roll

Members of the Saginaw High FIRST Robotics team prepare their robot for an upcoming round of competition at the Great Lakes Bay Region FIRST Robotics district competition March 22 at Dow High School in Midland, Mich.

Raymond Bady is a senior at Saginaw (Mich.) High School with plans to play college football, but there’s something about robots he just can’t resist.

Bady is part of the school’s FIRST Robotics team, one of thousands of students across the country who have been swept up in this growing phenomenon.

“It was something that sounded like it would be interesting. Then, after the first year, it was like, man, I’ve got to keep doing this,” Bady said.

Saginaw High’s squad, Team Trobot, was one of 40 teams competing in the Great Lakes Bay Region FIRST Robotics district competition March 21 and 22 at Dow High School in Midland, Mich. It was the first time Midland has hosted a FIRST Robotics event, and the atmosphere in the gymnasium was electric. Dow was a primary sponsor of the meet, is a national sponsor of FIRST Robotics and also provides funding to several teams at schools all over the country. The Trobots advanced to the tournament semifinals, guiding their robot around the arena with a skill that enabled it to score repeatedly in the custom-designed game.

“I’m pretty proud of how well we’ve done this year,” Bady said. “Last year was our first year, and we just wanted to be able to make a robot and go to competitions. But this year, we want to do better.” Bady said his experience playing football helps him when he’s driving the team’s robot. At the Midland meet, his composure was evident as he remotely rerouted the robot’s power supply when a bad battery caused it to freeze up in the middle of a playoff round.

High school students watch their robots through a viewing window while guiding them using remote controls.
“Robotics is like a sport to me,” he said. “And being on the robotics team has helped me in a lot of ways. I know how to build things, how to wire things, stuff I never knew before.” It generates a growth among students that is obvious, according to Robert Espinoza, a teacher at Saginaw High and mentor to the Trobots.

“We see huge behavior changes. They go from timid to outgoing and proud. They say, ‘I did that. I built that.’ Everything is student centered,” Espinoza said. “It’s great when school administrators come out. They see that this is much more than a bunch of toys.”


Robots toss inflatable red balls around the arena to score points during a FIRST Robotics competition.