by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
THE DURAND ROBOTICS TEAM has been preparing its robot for competition since early January, and the group is putting the finishing touches on its creation in advance of its first competition of the 2017 FIRST Robotics season. Durand will compete at Kettering on March 2 and 3, with its second competition scheduled for March 17 and 18 in Waterford. The team, which consists of 22 students, meets for three hours every day after school, and sometimes on Saturdays. The team and its lead mentors, Justin and Rebecca Shankster, took a moment to pose for a picture with its robot outside the Durand High School art room on Wednesday, Feb. 15. (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
The Durand Robotics team is making the final push to complete its robot before the Feb. 21 deadline for construction. The team will get its first chance to compete on March 2 and 3 at Kettering’s FIRST Robotics competition. In addition to his role as lead mentor, Justin Shankster also teaches art at Durand High School, and his robotics team members share in his creative tendencies. The students have created buttons, shirts, hats, posters, and vests to promote their team, and they went even further by fashioning their robot to resemble Durand’s train mascot.
The team is led by mentors Justin and Rebecca Shankster, Amy Shaw, Lee Reed, Katie Shankster, and Paul Mayers, and has been supported by many local businesses and individuals. Graff Chevy of Durand donated $1,500 to the team, and Riverside Market, Bowden Body Shop of Lennon, Ace Hardware of Durand, XYZ Landscaping of Durand, and Michigan Dental are the team’s other sponsors. Additionally, the Durand Area Schools Educational Foundation provided the team with a grant for $475 earlier this season.
The baseline annual budget for most Michigan FIRST Robotics teams is $15,000, so the Durand team will be holding a fundraising drive on Feb. 24 to get closer to that goal. Team members and mentors are compiling a list of potential donors and will initiate the hour-long telephone fundraising drive at 3 p.m. on Feb. 24. In addition to financial donations, the team is always in need of building supplies and equipment.
This year, the FIRST Robotics challenge is called “Steamworks,” and teams will be tasked with creating robots capable of building, powering, and boarding a steam-powered airship. The Durand team is focusing on building the airship. The robot will transport and offload gears, which will be used to construct the airship. The robot will then need to pull itself up onto the airship to prepare for takeoff. Durand’s robot uses a pneumatic cylinder to offload the gears, and the team is currently using AutoCAD to design and attach the final portion of the robot, which will allow the robot to climb onto the airship. The students, with the help of Kettering University engineers, have used LabView programming to give the robot vision processing capabilities.
Also of note, the team is partnering with Gift of Life Michigan to spread awareness for the necessity of organ and tissue donation. The team is also taking the ambitious step of applying for the Chairman’s Award, which is the most prestigious FIRST Robotics award. The team will create an essay and video to be presented at both of its competitions that shows why Durand’s team is special.
The Durand team was named “Highest Seeded Rookie” during its inaugural season in 2014, and this year the team is aiming to make its first trip to the state competition. “We are a young team this year, with only one senior, but we are really focused on qualifying for states,” Shankster explains. “Almost every student who has been a part of this robotics team has gone on to pursue a related career after graduation, and our current team members have been learning a lot this year. They are really such brilliant kids. We definitely want to advance to the state competition, but seeing the students make such huge strides as members of this team, that’s the real win.”