A successful start to the competition season has the Lowell Red Arrow robotics team looking forward to upcoming wins, team growth, and the promise of a new place to call “home.”
After a triumphant meet early in the season ranking the Lowell High School team in a comfortable 11th place statewide, the team is busy making improvements to their robot, fine-tuning their strategies, and working together to do even better.
Michigan has more than 600 robotics teams competing this season.
Though a small team of only nine members, the Lowell students who range in age from 13-18 meet twice a week for “build sessions” on their robot named “Phloppy Doppy.” The team does everything from physically building the robot to programming its movements to fundraising and marketing their activities.
Bryan Forney, the team’s coach, says he is very pleased with how well his team has done so far this season and anticipates more successes. However, he is most pleased with the skills his students are learning and the confidence he sees they are building.
He says there is more to robotics than just the robot, and the lessons learned from being on a robotics team are important life lessons.
“Confidence in their problem solving, in the way they approach an intractable problem, how to break it down in pieces and solve each problem,” Forney says regarding what his students learn.
He says learning engineering, design, coding and programming are all important parts of robotics. However, learning how to rebuild after a failure and try again is one of the most valuable things about being on his team.
Forney says he pushes much of the decision-making on the students to help them learn to succeed.
“There’s a whole business aspect to this as well, fundraising, marketing, sponsor relations, social media presence that we like to build,” he says.
“My philosophy of this team is: this is the kids’ robot; this is the kids’ team; this is the kids’ program,” he explains. “Particularly on the high school team, I try to push everything on them. I try to push as many of the decisions as I can…on them.”
Lowell Area Schools also has a middle school program with a season from September through December. The 2022 season was the first one for Lowell. Forney says there were 25 active students on the middle school team. If that many students return next season, the 2023 team may need to be divided up into two teams in order to compete.
Forney says there are no prerequisites to join either the high school or middle school teams other than to be willing to “try something new and work hard.”
The teams will eventually have a dedicated space thanks to Lowell Light and Power which is donating the use of a vacant section in their building in downtown Lowell. A move-in date has not yet been determined, but Forney says he and his team look forward to having their own space as opposed to working in classrooms as they currently do.
Charlie West, Lowell Light and Power general manager, says a LLP board member came up with the idea to donate unused space in their building to the robotics team. He said renovations to the building are required and not all details have been worked out, but a plan is set in motion to house the team.
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