Balance is key for the Dexter Robotics Club

Not many students in Dexter High School know much about the robotics club, nor do they realize the effort the team puts into building robots for competitions. Most schools have their own team, with roughly 3000 teams nationally. Michigan is extremely competitive in the field of robotics, mainly due to the sheer amount of teams in the state: 422. That’s one-sixth of all the national teams in a single state. To stay competitive in this league, it’s a serious grind.

“In the build season, we meet Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,” senior Cade Wagner said. “We meet three hours after school on weekdays and six hours on Saturday. We get that people are busy and can’t make it to a lot of the dates so it’s pretty much just show up as much as you can”.

“Five groups work on the robot, each on a different element. Programmers test their coding on a smaller robot while the mechanical and electrical groups work on the larger robot,” sophomore Ian Goetz said. “After tweaking everything, we build the final robot that goes into competition.”

The way the system works, in order to keep the playing field level, all teams are given the same challenge at the beginning of the season from the FIRST Robotics Competition organization. This ranges from stacking boxes on a tower to maneuvering through obstacle courses and dropping balls in different crates. The possibilities of the challenges are endless.

This year, the challenge is to place boxes on one side of a balance, and the goal is to control as many of the three balances as possible, earning points for each second a balance is controlled. After the prompt is given to each program, the team has six weeks to build the robot from scratch. It takes a long time to build and requires a lot of trial and error. But, with level heads and laser focus, the 50 members of the Dexter Robotics club have managed to create a phenomenal robot each year.

“I think the most valuable part is the experience you get because there’s no other way to get engineering experience in Dexter. There’s coding, electric, and mechanical engineering that we use while building the robot. You also get to experience talking with people and working in a team environment,” Wagner said.

The honor of competing and making a name for your program is great and all, but that’s not the only reason each team wants to compete.

“There are a ton of scholarships they hand out each year, and the better you do, the more you’re probably going to get,” Wagner said.

There are three levels of robotics competitions. First, each team must compete in two district competitions, and, depending on their seeding, they can go to the state level. Each team must have a primary driver( Cade Wagner); a secondary driver( Andrew Merriman); a human player (Christian Vaughn); and a technician( Katie Macintosh). This year, Dexter placed second in districts overall, meaning they will go to the state competition which takes place the week after districts are over. The main aspiration of every single one of the 3000 teams is to compete in the national competition, which takes place in Detroit this year.

“We’ve made it to states for three years running and I really want to finish strong for my senior season,” Wagner said.