Robots prepped for competition
**Wednesday, March 3, 2004
Bishop Foley team has high hopes again this year
By Tim Keenan / Special to The Detroit News **MADISON HEIGHTS** — When Michael Jordan was in his prime, people called him a basketball machine. Now area high school students are working on their own basketball machine.
Eight students from Bishop Foley Catholic High School are preparing for the Great Lakes FIRST Robotics regional three-day competition that starts next week at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.
FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is the brainchild of New Hampshire-based inventor/engineer Dean Kaman, who decided 14 years ago that smart students should have the same opportunity to showcase their talents in front of an audience as athletic students.
The Bishop Foley team, sponsored by SVE Engineering of Troy as well as Delmia and Dow Automotive and supervised by Assistant Principal Joanne Molnar, is in its third year of robotics competition. The team won an award for first-year participants at the EMU competition in 2002 and advanced to the nationals.
The team has high hopes again this year.
“We should do pretty well,” said Andrew Spiteri, 16, a junior in his first year of competition. “Our frame is pretty strong, and our design for the arm is pretty good.”
Three-year veteran Greg Naismith, 17, a junior, said, “I know it’s going to be difficult, but we’ve done well in the past. It’s going to be interesting.”
Competing teams had from Jan. 10 to Feb. 26 to build, program and test their robots, build the shipping case, build a replica of the playing field for practice and design a marketing campaign to attract partners during the competition.
The object of the competition is to score as many points as possible in two minutes with robots on a 48-by-24-foot playing field.
First, the robot — controlled remotely by a team member — must trip an infrared beam to release a number of balls onto the field. Then the robot has to deliver the balls to student team members, who shoot them into a bin.
When that mission is accomplished, the robot has to put a ball in the bin itself and then grab a pole and lift itself off the ground.
The Bishop Foley team, with eight students and a $15,000 budget, is outmanned and outspent by virtually every team in the competition.
“We’re the David in David and Goliath,” Molnar said.
Their apparent competitive disadvantage doesn’t deter the Foley team members from getting as much as they can from the FIRST Robotics experience.
“FIRST really opens it up for the students as far as building the robot,” Naismith said. “It gives kids a goal to reach, and you have six weeks to accomplish it.”
Second-year participant Grant Zoschnick, 17, a junior, said: “It’s really great because you take a diverse group of people and work with them on a common goal that you have to achieve in a really short time.”
Spiteri explained what he likes about the competition. “We get to learn a lot about engineering in manufacturing the robot,” he said.
The Foley team will be one of 62 participating in the Great Lakes Regional at EMU. It will be one of 43 teams at the West Michigan Regional from April 1-3 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale.
Other Metro area teams will take part in the 32-squad Detroit Regional at Wayne State from March 18-20.
Other teams from the immediate area include the Search Plus International & Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools squad from Kimball and Dondero high schools, and Ferndale High School.
**Tim Keenan is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.