O-Botics: LHS robotics team preps for competition

March 23, 2019

The Ludington High School robotics team has had a strong second season so far, and the future continues to look bright for the O-Bots as they head to their next competition in early April.

“State is certainly in our grasp,” LHS robotics coach Karen Shineldecker said. “We’re absolutely counting on it, actually.”

The team made it to the quarterfinals at the March 16 First Robotics Competition (FRC) tournament in Muskegon, finishing in sixth place. It was the first of two tournaments that will determine which teams qualify for the state competition.

It’s Ludington’s second year competing, and, after winning the Michigan State Rookie All-Star award at the state competition in 2018 and competing in the worldwide tournament in Detroit, the O-Bots are hoping to duplicate and surpass that success in April.

“As a second-year team, we are implementing approaches to game strategy that you don’t typically see until you get a seasoned team,” Shineldecker said.

The team was hard at work on Friday in the robotics room behind the LASD central business office, and some students plan to work through spring break.

They’re restricted as to how much time they can spend on their robot between competitions, and the LHS robot — named No-Spins by students — is currently bagged up and off-limits until a few days before the next tournament, which is April 4 and 5 in Traverse City.

The limitations force teams to find creative ways to continue to make progress until the robot is accessible again.

“We had to use strategy,” Shineldecker said. “The robot is totally restricted … so we took the strategy on of creating a twin (robot), so we’re still working on the concept and practicing the whole time.”

The twin is a near-exact replica of the competition robot, but because it’s a different machine, students are permitted to work on it without breaking competition rules.

The team can practice moving and working with the robot, running through tasks and routines that they’ll have to complete in the tournaments. They can also make modifications and adjustments to the programming and hardware.

After spring break, when restrictions are lifted and work on the competition robot can resume, team members will race to transfer those modifications to No-Spins.

“We’ll have mentors and coaches that will come in (during break),” Shineldecker said. “And Sunday and Monday of the following week, we will be here, because the competition robot will be out of the bag and we’ll be transferring everything we’ve done onto it.”

She said the participating students are learning valuable lessons about collaboration, discipline and working under pressure through the program.

“The kids are maturing and really coming into their own in this program,” Shineldecker said, adding that the kids are learning to take pride in their work.

“They’re learning to work together and get down this path successfully,” she said. “They have to determine the path they’re going to travel and the quality of it.”

They’ve spent about 40 hours a week building and programming. Team members like Vibeke Rivet are hopeful that the hard work will pay off at the next tournament.

“We want to place in the top five,” she said. “Preferably first.”

Team member Sydney Seymour emphasized that there’s an element of Mason County pride at play in robotics, as the LHS team has offered assistance and learned from nearby teams at Mason County Central and Mason County Eastern high schools.

At the March 16 competition, the O-Bots and the MCC Spartronics helped each other in the quarterfinal round. This helped the MCC team earn the Rookie All-Star award at the tournament.

“It’s all about helping everyone you can,” Seymour said.

FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a program that seeks to boost students’ science and technology skills through robotics clubs and programs. There are clubs for high-schoolers, junior high and middle school students and Lego leagues for elementary-age students.