CRYSTAL LAKE – Dozens of robotics teams swarmed McHenry County College on Saturday for a battle to state finals.
The fourth annual FIRST Tech Challenge Crystal Lake League Championship featured 32 teams of student groups representing grades seven through 12 in a daylong tournament. The object of the game was to get the student-created robots to move objects into rows and columns, park on balancing mats, and navigate to various areas on the playing field.
Three area leagues featuring teams from Kane, McHenry, Winnebago and DuPage counties participated in Saturday’s event.
FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – was founded nearly 30 years ago and has been in Illinois nearly as long but has seen growth in recent years, said Dan Green, executive director for FIRST Illinois Robotics.
“I’d say about five years ago things really began to take off,” Green said. “Our real goal is [to be able to offer a program] to any kid in the state that wants to participate in this at a league level. We aren’t there yet.”
Awareness and resources are common roadblocks, he added.
“It’s unbelievable how many people don’t know what this program is,” he said. “Once we get past awareness then the issue is can they fund it and do they have the resources and people to help guide it.”
Engaging in these competitions helps kids develop both hard and soft skills. They have to understand the science and engineering piece but must also work as a team and talk to judges about their work, Green said.
Crystal Lake-based Fruit Salad team member Audrey Godsell, who also is a Crystal Lake South senior, said that she was happy with the team’s performance Saturday afternoon.
“We are really pleased with how our robot is working,” she said. “It’s been pretty consistent throughout the day.”
“I think for a lot of us [robotics] has really opened our eyes to STEM and all the opportunities there are,” she added. “It has changed my mind personally. I wanted to be a writer, but now I want to go into engineering.”
Fruit Salad isn’t affiliated with a school, but is sponsored by nonprofit Crystal Lake Robotics.
Fellow Fruit Salad team member Caroline Rausch said she has had similar revelations to Godsell.
“I used to want to be an author, but now I want to be an engineer,” she said.
Limited time to work on the robot projects is a big challenge for teams, especially for those based out of schools, said Crystal Lake South Robotics Team member Blake Thomas, 17.
“We only have two days a week to work on this,” he said. “But I do like how it’s very hands-on and you can see the direct result of [your work].”