The nine students that make-up the Portland High School Robotics team have been working in a make-shift room off of the School Library, from one to five hours a day, since January to build a robot that will, “Move, Level, Lift and Shoot” a ball at a fixed target. The goal is to hit the target in competitions against other schools. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? But, its not.
The “robot” is built from a kit that costs $5,000. But, the cost for the robot kit is just the beginning as there are also additional entry fees of up to $5,000 to participate in a contest. Then there are travel expenses too. (The PHS Robotics team will travel back on forth, on Friday and Saturday, to the Milford Competition this weekend.) In addition, teams must also figure out how to purchase or get donations of other materials (motors, extra pieces, and spare parts) to supplement the kit. Dave Sheppard, Portland’s Dean of Students, has been the PHS Robotics Coach since it began three years ago. Sheppard estimates that it costs at least $15,000 just to have a basic Robotics program. This is not funded by general school funds. Fortunately, Portland has been blessed by the generosity of THK, Tri-County HomeWorks, Portland Federal Credit Union and Portland Products. “They have been awesome partners”, according to Sheppard, “donating not just money but tools and parts and their time as well”. There have also been a few State of Michigan grants and private donations as well.
While $15,000 might seem like a lot of money to invest in a Robotics team it is on the very modest beginner’s end. For example, one source told The Beacon that Allendale High School, has dedicated facilities and an annual budget of $150,000 for its Robotics program. Allendale Public School is reportedly not alone in how seriously committed they are to maintain and fund Robotic programs. Approximately 500 school-based Robotics teams from across Michigan compete in a number of competitions held around the State.
Sheppard is quick to point out that he has had some excellent invaluable volunteers. “THK has had some of their engineers come and mentor the kids and this is also the third year that Chip Weygandt, a parent, has volunteered to work everyday with the team. Another parent, Dave Branson, has also volunteered. Boy Scout Troop 129 loans its enclosed trailer to the team when it travels to competitions.
The Milford event this weekend is the only event that the PHS Robotics team will participate in this year prior to traveling, on March 20 & 21st, to compete in the Mason District Championship. If they earn a high finish at Mason they will move on to the State Competition at Kettering University in Flint. The winners of the State Competition will move on to the World Robotics Championship to be held this year in Detroit.
“The PHS Robotics program gives our students an outlet to showcase their talents in what they are passionate about,” Shepherd told The Beacon earlier this year. “They learn about engineering, design and coding”. “Who knows it could be the beginning of a career in the field”, Sheppard noted while reflecting on a former PHS Robotics Team member who is now an Engineering student at Michigan Tech and recently completed an internship at NASA.
The PHS Robotics team this year are Parker Weygandt, Collin Pung, Shane Branson, Joe Lorenz, Gerrit Hoving, Sam Hoving, Collin Calley, Caiden Cross and Ryan Rose.