Forest Hills robotics team preps for weeks of competition


As the next several weekends draw near, senior Connor Stadler and his robotics teammates prepare themselves and their robot for multiple competitions.

One of the most important is set for the last Friday and Saturday of spring break. Those two days will be dedicated to a competition held at FHC with 40 teams in attendance. This particular competition will be the robotics team’s second regional competition this year to see if they qualify for states.

“[This competition] is exciting because it’s the first time that we’re hosting a competition,” Conner said.

Every year the competitions have a new game of sorts. At this year’s competitions, there are three “teeter-totters,” three switches which are lower teeter-totters, and one scale. Alongside those, there are milk crates that the teams’ robots must try and move in order to gain possession of the teeter-totters in their direction. The directions change based on the matches off of random number generating.

Connor explained that every competition has the same make-up. There is a 15 second autonomous period in the beginning, which restricts any driver output. This leaves the task of navigating the robot; in past years, the Forest Hills team has used cameras and computer vision to track their robot’s travel. This year, however, they’re using a gyroscope on the robot and an encoder to count the distance they’re traveling. The last few years, each match has ended with 30 seconds in which the teams must climb their robots. This year, they must climb a bar with three robots which can only accommodate for two of them. This means the only logical option is that one of the robots carries another in order for there to be enough room.

“[Competitions] are really fun, and for Forest Hills, it will be really cool because our team’s local sponsors will be able to show up,” Connor said. “It’s going to be fun to work with them at the competition.”

The competitions have judges that hand out awards, so there are a lot of local engineers. Because the last competition is at FHC, there will be local engineering companies that could offer internships and discussion for participants.

Many awards given at the competition are assigned based on whoever attends the event and best qualifies for the award, but some require a team to apply beforehand. This year, the team will be applying for the most prestigious award: the chairman’s award, which is based on community outreach. It requires teams to write an essay, create a video, and do a sit-down interview with specific judges.

Connor’s fellow teammate, senior Kellie Zhou, expressed her equal excitement for the up and coming competitions– specifically, the Indiana competition coming up this weekend.

“It’s like a practice [competition],” Kellie said. “The last two years we’ve done really bad [in Indiana], but this year it would be nice if we could do well.”

Each team in Michigan only competes in two of the six regional competitions; however, the competition in Indiana will not count towards those, as it’s not in the district. Kellie pointed out that Indiana could be a beneficial competition for the underclassmen.

“We have a lot of underclassmen this year, so it’s a nice opportunity to get them used to the competition, what it’s going to be like, and how hectic it is,” Kellie said.

The several months leading up to the competition weeks are spent by team members planning and putting together their robot in accordance with the year’s game. Each of the members is assigned a particular position/job.

Kellie is the safety captain, electrical vice-captain, and also does team management. These titles come with responsibilities like assigning hotel rooms, working on electrical work on the robot, and being first aid certified for CPR in case of emergencies.

“Safety is a really big part of our robotics thing because you’re working with dangerous tools and stuff,” said Kellie, who’s been on the team all four years of high school.

Connor programs and helps out with electrical aspects, although his official title is Co-Head Programmer. This job comes with doing most of the programming alongside a fellow teammate from FHN, while freshmen and other people aid them. The electrical aspect is merely him lending a helping hand when needed.

Freshman Steve Ettinger, however, is in his first year with the robotics team and is in the assembly. In the next three years of his high school career, he hopes to learn how to program and strive to get a higher position on the team.

“[I plan to] just go to all the meetings, go to all of the events, and learn as much as I can in the time I have there with the mentors and older members,” Steve said.

Robotics has proven to be an extracurricular that requires a lot of commitment because of all the meetings that occur leading up to competitions and the general talent it requires to master the skills involved in the club. The official hours for meetings is Monday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., while Saturday and Sunday meetings are from about 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Connor spends roughly 30-40 hours each week working on the team’s robot, sometimes spending a few extra hours working on the robot when there’s no meeting on days like Friday. As said by Steve, the team is unable to touch their robot at a certain point in time before the competition; instead, they must put their bot in a bag and let it be until competition day, so members like Connor cram in as much work as possible before this point in time comes.

And although these days leading up to competition are stressful for some, Kellie and many of her teammates couldn’t be more excited for the competitions in the coming weeks.

“I like how productive [the competition] feels,” Kellie said. “I guess I like interacting with the other teams because the community of robotics is really welcoming and everybody is kind of really friendly with each other. It’s nice that you can do t-shirt trading, or you can literally go up to another team and be like, “Hey, your robot is pretty cool. How did you do this part?ai??i?? And it’s just really fun.”