Robotics students hold demo at veterans home

Sam Kinney, 12, a seventh-grader at Bothwell Middle School, demonstrates Roberta, the Robogators’ robot, shown Thursday night to members of the Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette. The robotics team visits the home monthly. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — The fascination with robotics isn’t limited to the younger generation.

Proof of that was apparent Thursday night at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette when local youth robotics teams, the Robogators and Cold Logic, gave demonstrations of two robots: Roberta and Sparky.

The robots’ motions brought smiles to the vets’ faces. In fact, some of them showed their dexterity, trying out the small machines.

Laura Farwell, coach of the Robogators team, watched as the students drove their robots forward, backward and in circles.

The demo also provided a way for the students to hone their speaking skills. The Robogators, for instance, explained how their robot, Roberta, worked — by having a catapult that shoots a ball into a basket.

“It’s really built their confidence because they have to present,” Farwell said. “They’ve had to fix difficult problems on the spot, and they have to learn how to communicate to get instructions to drive.”

Roberta was last year’s robot.

“Right now they’re in the throes of building a new robot for a new game,” Farwell told the audience. “So, once they’ve built that and they’ve had their tournaments, they can bring that robot here to show you all and you can see what they did.”

The Robogators visit Jacobetti monthly.

However, since they’re dealing with something technical, things don’t always come off as planned.

“Sometimes they have technical problems, like right now, and then they have to fix them,” Farwell said during the demo.

For example, one problem required a hex wrench.

“Technical problems are good because they build teamwork,” Farwell said.

Glitches aside, the students kept things running.

One of those students was Robogator Sam Kinney, 12, a seventh-grader at Bothwell Middle School.

“I enjoy coming here,” Sam said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us and veterans, so the veterans can see what’s happening in our generation and we can learn about their generation.”

Visiting Jacobetti, though, gives him experience in what he hopes will be his future field.

“I really want to be an engineer when I grow up,” Sam said.

Since he likes tinkering, he had a hand, literally, in creating Roberta.

“I helped with the drive chain and I also designed the ball picker-upper,” he said.

Cold Logic is composed of students from Marquette Senior High School and North Star Academy, and home-schoolers. The Robogators are from North Star and Bothwell, and home-schoolers as well.

Jessica Donnell, head mentor of Cold Logic, talked to the veterans about that team’s robot: Sparky.

Sparky, who she acknowledged was built to travel fast and get over many objects, has taken a “beating.”

“He has a top speed of 45 mph,” Donnell said. “The robot can move, and when, you know, it hits things, it’s light enough to fly in the air.”

Donnell asked Cold Logic members what they’ve learned most about their robotics experience.

“Just how to work with other people,” answered Zita Jameson, an MSHS junior.

MSHS senior Thayer Yates said he’s learned to speak to crowds.

They also learned that it’s OK to fail.

“It’s hard not to be perfect, and I think as an adult I learn more from these students than, I would say, anybody else,” Donnell said.

Her students also learn coding — a much different language than what they’re used to.

“It’s 100 percent foreign,” Donnell said.

The veterans probably weren’t familiar with all the new technology, but they saw first-hand the results of what the younger generation was learning.

Jacobetti member Albert Ford was impressed with the teams.

“They are so far advanced than I ever was at that age,” Ford said.

The same holds true for Donnell.

“I probably learn more than the kids,” Donnell said. “What do we call this sport? Sport of the mind. That’s what we call it.”

The school year, of course, is young.

Farwell said this year’s game is FIRST Relic Recovery. Four robots start on a “balancing stone” and score points in autonomous mode, a pre-programmed 30-second period, by knocking the correct colored “jewel” — a colored whiffle ball — off a platform when the relative positioning isn’t known in advance.

The game will include one or more glyphs, which are 6-inch hard foam cubes, moving into the “crypto box,” a matrix that can hold three glyphs horizontally and four glyphs vertically, and parking in the safe zone, an area just in front of the crypto box.

In the subsequent two-minute driver-controlled period, robots will attempt to fill their crypto box with a total of 12 glyphs and score additional points if the glyphs make specified color patterns. During the last 30 seconds, robots may pick up the “relic” from the corner and place it outside the robot field-points based on distance from the field perimeter wall and whether it’s standing.

Finally, robots score by driving back onto the balancing stone and balancing their robot.

Farwell said teams are preparing to attend their FIRST Tech Challenge state-qualifying tournaments in Petoskey in November and in Houghton in December, which is the first FTC state qualifier ever held in the Upper Peninsula. They have a second scrimmage in Houghton Saturday during the Copper Country FIRST Lego League state-qualifying tourney for upper elementary grades and the FIRST LEGO League Jr. Expo for kindergarten through third grade.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is