Kingsford set to host robotics competition

From left, robotics coach Brian Olson, Kingsford Middle School eighth-grader Isaac Olson and Jean Constantini, technology director for Breitung Township School District, prepare their robot for The FIRST Robotics district competition at Kingsford Middle School and High School gyms Thursday through Saturday. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

KINGSFORD — In only its second year of robotics, Kingsford this weekend will host a district competition with more than 1,200 people.

“Escanaba hosted the event for several years in a row. This year, for whatever reason, they decided not to host, and that is when we made an offer to host,” said Jean Constantini, technology director at Breitung Township Schools and team administrator for the competition. Brian Olson and Joe Kreigl are the team coaches.

Kingsford Robotics Team No. 7154, TheROK, will be among 40 high school student teams and their mentors that designed and built large-scale robots to battle in three-on-three competitions this weekend in the FIRST Robotics competition at Kingsford Middle School and High School gyms Thursday through Saturday.

The majority of teams will come from across the Upper Peninsula, with a handful from lower Michigan.

This year’s competition theme is deep space, for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The scenario is the robot has to move cargo pods and prepare the spaceship before the next sandstorm arrives.

Iron Mountain, Norway and Kingsford are participating for their second year, while Iron River, Crystal Falls, North Central and North Dickinson County have robotics teams for the first time.

“It’s friendly robotics competition — gracious professionalism and cooperation,” Constantini said.

Set-up begins Thursday evening, with the first matches scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Friday. Each team will compete in 12 qualification matches, with two other alliance partners for each match. An alliance team in one competition could be an opponent in another match.

At the end of the qualification matches, the top eight seeded teams become alliance leads and choose their alliance partners.

Elimination rounds begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, with awards scheduled for 5 p.m.

“There are 24 teams in the elimination, so that means 16 teams are going home. So you hope to earn enough points to compete in the elimination rounds,” Constantini said.

Eighth-grader Isaac Olson expects TheRok to perform well in the competition. “Last year I was surprised that we didn’t blow up our robot because we didn’t know what we were doing. Now it actually makes sense. I think we are going to do really good this year. I think we are going to make state again,” he said.

Kingsford qualified for the state competition in its first attempt last year but was not prepared for the expense to participate in the downstate event, so did not go.

“We didn’t have time to raise funds. As a rookie team, that wasn’t even on our radar,” coach Brian Olson explained.

The top 160 teams among more than 500 in the state are invited to the event. Kingsford last year was just inside the top 100.

This year, they hope to continue their robotics journey through April.

“There are two district qualifiers — the first is here and the second is next week in Alpena. So our team will travel to Alpena and, if we qualify for the state tournament, we will go to Saginaw,” Constantini said.

The state robotics competition is set for April 13 in Saginaw, with the championship April 24-27 in Detroit.

Recent grants have helped increase momentum at Kingsford. The team designed several parts of the robot on a 3-D printer purchased with grant money.

“One of our students designed that camera mount this morning and the electronics are attached with 3-D printed parts. It’s helpful when the kids in your CAD class knows how to do that,” Constantini said.

Breitung Township also plans to offer robotics courses in the next school year.

“This is an afterschool program, and there are so many other things going on with kids and their schedules that we are looking to adding it to the curriculum next year,” Constantini said.

The school will have an intro to engineering course as well.

“That is going to help to build the type of students that will be really good at this,” she said.

The Kingsford Robotics Team has 20 members and is sponsored by MJ Electric, MJ Drilling, CCI Systems, Lake Shore Systems, Kohler Co. and American Transmission Company.