Robotics competition turns tech skills into sport


Dakota Hatch, a student at the Horizon Science Academy, is repairing his teams robot for Kent State University’s FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition Saturday Feb. 4, 2017.

Rick Pongonis

Looking determined, a Stow-Munroe Falls High School student pushed his joystick forward. At his command, a 15-inch metallic see-through robot scooped up a blue ball about the size of a softball, put it in the catapult and — as he pressed a green button on his controller — the ball launched into the basket.

The crowd cheered loudly. His team had just bested the 27 other high school groups in the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition in the Kent State Student Center Ballroom Saturday afternoon.

“I think it’s an amazing event because these young students have the intellect to learn such complicated technology,” said Jackie Ruller, interim program director for applied engineering and the event coordinator. “I think it’s interesting that students as young as seventh and eighth grade are competing.”

The competition this year was called “Velocity Vortex.” Teams used their robots to make baskets with two different-sized balls in a game of basketball.

Liam Arch, a high school sophomore who served as the outreach director for team 8581, said he and his teammates started work around the middle of August.

“We do this for six months a year, so during June and July we don’t think about this,” Arch said.

Arch said his team continuously updated the parts in the robot throughout the season to keep it running efficiently.

While the matches were centered around competition, at the heart of the event was the teamwork skills the kids learned, Ruller said.

The teams are typically made up of five people, with each member claiming a different role.

As the outreach director, Arch said he essentially serves as a public relations person and promotes his team. His brother, Hadley Arch, serves as a sketch artist and draws the prototype models.

The event is meant to be more of learning experience than anything else. 

“I think it’s very innovative to accomplish the tasks that they have to,” Ruller said. “Learning the technology and working together, I call it gracious professionalism.”

Rick Pongonis is the university tech reporter, contact him at [email protected]