Two Minneapolis public high school robotics teams are headed to the world robotics competition next week in Detroit.
Student-led teams from Washburn and Patrick Henry high schools will be among 1,400 other teams competing in the For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) Championship robotics competition.
“How successful the team is all depends on how much work and time and effort the students put in,” said Brynn DeVaan, a senior and co-captain of the Washburn team. She estimated that each student on the 30-member Millerbots squad contributed around 300 hours in the past year.
“Everything kind of lined up perfectly this year [and] all the work kind of paid off, which is really cool,” DeVaan said. David Sylvestre, lead mentor for Patrick Henry High School’s team, the Herobotics, said his team has done nearly 10,000 hours of outreach over the past five years. This includes promoting and teaching robotics to grade schoolers, middle schoolers and community residents.
“A lot of students have said that they wouldn’t have thought about a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] career, but they got involved in robotics and that really opened their eyes to what they could be doing,” Sylvestre said.
The FIRST robotics competition challenges teams to create a robot to accomplish a specific task and compete against other teams in an arena. This year, teams built robots that lift cubes onto a teeter-totter; the team with the most cubes on its side of the teeter-totter is declared the winner.
Each team secured a spot at the global competition after winning FIRST’s regional Engineering Inspiration Award, which is based on expanding STEM outreach in the team’s school and community.
The Washburn team showcased its robots at bookstores, Open Streets Minneapolis events and Maker Faire science project events. That, along with what was called a “phenomenal” robot, helped them win the award, Devaan said.
DeVaan said the Washburn team had not been expecting to cover the cost of a trip to the world championship. The team needs an additional $6,000 to meet its goal of $16,000 to pay for travel, housing and food as well as robot construction and maintenance costs.
“We’re all kind of scrambling to find this money in time,” DeVaan said.
This is the Washburn team’s first competition on the world stage, and DeVaan said that nearly everyone on the team hopes to go. The team has set up a GoFundMe page and is seeking corporate sponsors to help fund the trip.
“We don’t want to bring a skeleton crew. We want to bring the whole team because it’s just a completely different experience than any other regional,” she said.
Because many urban robotics teams only last a year or two, Sylvestre said, Patrick Henry’s Herobotics team partners with others to keep going. They established the 24-team Minneapolis Urban Robotics Alliance as well as a fledgling national program for urban teams called the American Urban Robotics Alliance.
Business partners, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic and Coloplast, supported Patrick Henry’s robot and outreach material and are helping fund the trip to Detroit for the 25 team members. Sylvestre said the corporate help ensures that all students can afford the trip; 95 percent of Henry High students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Even though the Patrick Henry team has gone to the championship for most of its 11-year existence, Sylvestre said that “it never gets old … it’s always exciting.”
“Our students have done really well, and just worked hard over the years to become notable … and contribute to the community,” Sylvestre said.
The Herobotics aim to bring home a world title, he said.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for growth for young people in urban areas to get involved in STEM, and we just want to make sure that we’re offering that opportunity to as many students as possible,” Sylvestre said.
Kelly Busche is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.