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Robotics team gearing up for 2012 season's robot basketball

Kattering University Freshman Alex Christiansen, Lake Orion Junior Anna Tierney, and returning student Matt Erker stand by their 2011 creation. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
February 01, 2012 - Sometimes in competition, engineering prowess is required over athletic skill, and the Lake Orion High School robotics club is ready for the upcoming 2012 season with a robot designed, built and operated by themselves.

Part of the worldwide program called FIRST (for inspiration and recognition of science and technology) since 1999, the team and seen its share of success, including a trip to the final four in the 2003 world championships. Most recently, the Dragon robotics club came in first place at a post-season event last summer in Monroe, Mich.

The goal of the program changes every year, but it is essentially a competition which tests each team's ability to create an innovative robot to complete designated tasks.

This year's task requires the robot to shoot a basketball into one of four hoops at differing heights and point values. An additional task is available, and requires the robot to work in tandem with another school's entry to balance on a platform.

"The idea behind FIRST was to let kids create something and make robotics a sporting event," said club mentor and 2008 graduate Heather Wilsher. "There is a game revealed every year and we have six weeks to build a fully functioning robot.

"This year we have two minutes to score as many baskets as possible, with the highest basket sitting at eight feet off the ground and the lowest at four feet."

Lake Orion's team will form an "alliance" with two other robotics teams and play three versus three against another alliance. The qualification matches are random, but when the elimination rounds begin, each of the top eight seeded teams get to choose a partner.

Lake Orion is already well on its way to completing its 2012 robot. Minor design alterations are still underway, but the general body of the robot is coming together, Wisher said.

"We started building the robot, and when I was there (the week of Jan. 16) the programming team was making the code set for driving the robot," she said."Separately, there is a shooting-arm design being drawn up for the robot and the building team already had the robot rolling around.

"WIth a six-week deadline, you have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. After the deadline you cannot work again on the robot until the first competition, where fine tuning can be done before the event."

While the 2012 robot is still under construction, the club's 2011 robot is fully functional. It is loaded with technology, from large rechargeable lead-based batteries to wireless routers programmed to receive orders.

Around $35,000 is provided each year by the team's sponsors, which include Chrysler, GM's Orion Assembly plant, BAE Systems, Inalfa Roofing, Siemens, UP2Go International, MMRA, Pattie Engineering, the Lake Orion Fire Fighters Association, and the Lake Orion Lions Club.

Lake Orion's first competition is on March 2- 3 at Kettering University, featuring 30 robotics teams from around the area.

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