Students put robots through the metal paces

WARREN — Local residents interested in robots got to see some up close Saturday.

The sixth annual FIRST Robotics Day was noon to 4 p.m. at the Packard Museum, featuring robotics teams from Warren, Champion and Austintown middle and high schools. Students demonstrated how their robots shoot balls, climb ropes and hang gears.

Travis Hoffman, adviser and lead engineer for the Warren G. Harding Delphi ELITE Team 48, said it was important for students to get involved in the robotics teams because the activities use many of the skills potential employers seek.

“If you get that information hands-on before college, it really gives you a step up,” Hoffman said.

Andy Yantes, lead technical mentor for the Austintown Fitch Falco Tech 3193 team, said schools have decreased technology classes in recent years, relegating such training to career centers.

“We can teach the kids how to do programming, electrical wiring, public speaking, writing scripts, essays. … There’s so many different aspects,” Yantes said.

Jacob Scheidegger, 18, of Warren, serves as the captain of the project and management team, which includes behind-the-scenes tasks such as writing awards, helping with general management and fundraising. Initially beginning with an interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — Scheidegger learned after four years on the team he liked business and management, which gave him an idea of what he wanted to do after school.

Scheidegger’s fellow teammate Alex Richards, 14, of Warren, in his first year, is more direct as the human player on the drive team, which involves operating their robot, Xtremachen20, as well as other duties including assembly and fixing the robot.

“I plan to be on the team until I graduate,” Richards said.

Although they are technically robotics teams, Barb Hummel, a mentor with the Champion High School Lightning Bots, said the groups draw in students for much more than robotics or technology. She compared the team to a business requiring the students to be able to manage many facets such as public relations and financing aside from the obvious technological aspect of the team.

“Kids build the robot, but we also have graphic design, photography and finance,” Hummel said. “We utilize all skills.”

Lightning Bots team member Cole Engle, 17, of Champion, corroborated Hummel’s statement, saying he participated in a lot of sports before joining the team four years ago. Now he works on the electronics for their robot, the Ironclad.

“The best moment is when we’re building the robot and you see the new kids get involved,” Engle said. “You can see them getting excited.”

Elise Yantes, 15, of Austintown, was operating Falco Tech 3193’s robot the Talon Hydra. Elise, who spent three years on the middle school team and three years on the high school team, said her role is co-captain of the support team. This includes working on awards, presenting the awards, outreach and helping on the robots.

“The team environment is the best thing,” Elise said. “I met my best friend in my first year on the team, there’s a lot of camaraderie.”

For anyone interested in seeing more of what the robotics teams can do, Hoffman recommends attending the Mahoning Valley Robotics Challenge, which will feature at least 24 local robotics teams, Sept. 23 at Warren G. Harding High School in Warren.