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The ThunderChickens are the team of brilliant students in our school district banding together to build a robot in the FIRST Robotics Competition. The competition for the last couple of days was held at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. Since White Light Computing is one of many sponsors and I have a vested interested as dad, I decide to play hooky from the office the last couple of days. It was energizing and the team did fantastic, finishing fourth in the qualifying matches, and first overall in the elimination round.

From the FIRST Web site: “FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a multinational non-profit organization, that aspires to transform culture, making science, math, engineering, and technology as cool for kids as sports are today.”

This is not robot wars you see on television. This year’s game is a fury of tic-tac-toe with tetrahedrons placed on top and underneath larger tetrahedrons. Stacking them as high as the robot can reach and hopefully having your team’s color on top at the end of the 135 second round. Three teams form an alliance during match and work together to ensure they have the top tetras. The robots work autonomously for the first 15 seconds of each match. Then the students jump in and drive the robots around the playing field.

You can watch a QuickTime animation of the Triple Play game on the FIRST site (check out the “Triple Play Animation” under the downloads), but to see it in person is amazing. Watching our young adults figure out strategy, solve engineering problems, attempt to defy physics, challenge their own limitations, and some how get it all done in six weeks from requirements delivery to shipping a robot is way cool.

My favorite part of this competition is that teams help other teams succeed. Share experiences, share parts, share code, share tools, share ideas, and help each other get better. Sound familiar? Absolutely, much like what the Fox Community is all about. Helping each other be better at what we do. The students really learn first hand about teamwork and collaboration. Each of the teams also takes on a local community service project. They also work with the local elementary schools to build Lego robots for a competition in the Fall. Not only do they learn what it takes to be mechanical, electrical, and software engineers, but they learn about teaching others, giving back, and paying it forward. The skills they learn during the competition will serve them well throughout their lives.

This weekend the ThunderChickens also won the Sportsman Award to add to the collection of awards they won (Entrepreneur and Sportsman) at the Finger Lakes Regional where they finished third in the qualifying matches and were eliminated in the semi-finals.

So the ThunderChickens have accomplished one of their many goals (winning the Detroit Regional). They still have more, like winning a Chairman’s Award, and winning the national competition in Atlanta. Therese and I are hoping to get to Atlanta. After this weekend, I cannot see how we can miss it!

My son Chris is one of the programmers on the team. He tried to explain to me a couple of times how they code this machine to run by itself and respond to the drivers movements of the joystick, and how it will literally spin on a dime. Using code to drive a motor, spin wheels, work with pneumatics to control the arm, and all the other cool stuff they do made my head spin. Databases are so much easier.

Chris, we are very proud of your teamwork, the team accomplishments, and the fun you all had in the regionals. I am continuously amazed how this all works, but I am not amazed how well the team has done knowing the students and mentors involved. I hope you take this energizing experience and expand on it during the national competition.

Now if the ThunderChicken Web site was updated…

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