Manchester Robotics Team Advances to Finals

By Seth Kinker,

On the first Saturday of January, build season began. Since then robotics teams around the state have been working on creating a robot built to perform tasks, or to the specifications of a game that changes yearly.

Last weekend the Manchester High School Robotics team #6081, the Digital Dislocators, were on the winning side at one of two district competitions in Gibraltar to advance to the finals in Lincoln March 21 – 23.

The team started at the high school four years ago and has grown in the district every year. The second year they added a middle school team. The third year elementary teams from first through sixth grade was added and they use Legos.

After the first year with the high school team Matt Hall, a STEM teacher at Riverside Intermediate and the robotics coach at the middle and high school, began to get questions from parents about how their kid could be involved even though they were younger. Conversation led to action and Hall was able to find people interested in helping make the
programs possible.

The Digital Dislocators, coaches and team members, with their blue banner after their win at Gibralter over the weekend of Feb. 28. Photo provided by Matt Hall

It’s not cheap, according to Hall it costs $5,000 to register for the season and buy the parts necessary to build a robot. Now, with winning their most recent competition if they do place well at Lincoln, they could qualify for states which would cost another $4,000.

“That’s one of the big nuts and bolts pieces that kind of goes on behind the scenes that I take care of, a lot of is fundraising,” said Hall. “We put on the Run Manchester event this summer. Basically, there was nobody in town for sure that was going to take it over so we kind of stepped up to the plate.”

At the kickoff event of the season, teams gather at local colleges or high schools to watch the game animation where the game for the year is revealed.

“Then you pick up kind of your basic, what they call kit of parts,” said Hall. “Some basic structural, electronic stuff to build your robot. And then from there you have six weeks to build it. At the end of six weeks you put the robot in the bag, basically have to seal it up. And then you go to two district events. Depending on how you do at those two events you earn district

Hall told The Sun Times that historically, if you’re around the low 60s in points you can get to the state playoffs, which take place in mid-April at Saginaw Valley. The Digital Dislocators earned 43 points last weekend at Gibraltar which puts them in a good position to qualify for states, something the team has strived for since starting.

“We’ve never been to states,” said Hall, the Digital Dislocators have made it to the playoffs at one event every year, but not at both events. “It’s always been a goal of ours. It depends on the next event, how we do really will determine that. Our goal this year is to get into the playoffs at both events because if you can do that then you likely have a good shot at getting into states.”

This year it’s a space travel theme, with Boeing sponsoring this year’s game because of the 50th anniversary of going to and landing on the moon. Once the game is presented it doesn’t change, so improvements can be made to the robots depending on performance, but only for a certain amount of time, per the rules.

There are ten team members; Jake Vershum, Allen Morse Koch, Cullen Armstrong, Miles West, Caitlin Gaydosh, Jacob Denby, Chase Flint, John Miller, Griffin VanVuren and Ricky Villarreal. Two students are the drive team, one is a human player, two are programmers, three work on the mechanical side of things, and two do public relations work.

Hall touched on how the team has helped increase opportunities to bring STEM based classes to the district, with school administrators and community members seeing the results manifested in the Digital Dislocators.

“One of my own personal goals is to try and keep those students actively interested in it. Every time we go to one of these competitions or we go to a workshop and things that are robotics related we always hear speakers that come in from different sponsors that sponsor these events,” said Hall. “So, Ford, GM, Boeing, a lot of people who work in the technical industry. Every time they come to speak their message always is, ‘we can never find enough qualified people to fill these positions.’ There’s a huge shortage of young people to fill those positions in electrical engineering, software engineering, we hear that all the time.”

For Hall, he just appreciates seeing how much the program has grown throughout the district. It started with six or eight kids and has grown to almost 50, combining all teams.

“In the high school robotics competition if you win an event you get a big blue banner,” said Hall. “That’s a big deal to win an event. Our first year at our first event we qualified for the finals but didn’t win. We thought, ‘oh man that was awesome,’ and so many people told us, ‘you don’t realize what you did by making it to the finals your first year.’ Then year two and three we had some ups and downs and we’d only get to round one of the playoffs, so to get back to the finals and win it this year was kind of a, right now that would be the crowning moment. Depending on what happens the rest of the season, we’ll see.”

*You can donate to the team by sending checks to Manchester High School attn: Manchester Robotics 20500 Dutch Drive Manchester MI 48158

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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