The bags are zipped. The gears, computers chips and wheels installed. And the first iteration of robots is ready for action.

Michigan FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams concluded the build season for 2018 on Tuesday. Earlier this week, the teams sealed away their robots in large bags — commonly referred to as “bag day” — and won’t open them again until they start competitions.

“Build season is best described as organized chaos,” said Kaelyn Hicks, captain of the Cesar Chavez Academy Aztec Eagles. “We drifted away from our original goals, jumped between ideas, and just recently decided on how we were going to design our climbing mechanism.”

The six week build season provides teams time to acclimate new team members, learn this year’s game, and lay the groundwork to qualify for the state and world championships. It also provides students a chance to reflect on their season so far.

“As a team it’s been both stressful and exciting, but now with competitions coming up we’re all excited, and confident,” said Kandis Chow, member of the Mercy Education Project Mercy Midnight Storm.

DTE Energy sponsors 16 high-school level teams across the state, both with funding and with on-site mentors.

Enduring the “organized chaos” of the build season is what separates the teams capable of competing for state and world championships with the rest of the pack, the participants say.

“Teamwork and communication are so important,” Hicks said. “Understanding other people’s ideas, being able to problem solve, and trouble shoot together is crucial.”

“Our team has made a lot of progress in the last six weeks,” said Damian Ribera, member of the Cristo Rey High School Kinematic Wolves. “Communication has been the key.”

The work is far from over.

Teams will take the next few weeks to strategize and work on improvements for robots. On competition day, teams get several hours to add, subtract or change parts before the robots take to the playing field.

“Our team will continue to think through game strategies and get prepared for the competitions,” said Karl Balke, coach of the Cass Technical High School Tenacious Technicians. “Uniform design and making buttons will be fun, along with getting prepared for the additional work on the robot and what tools they need for the pit area.

“We’ll discuss the roles that need to be covered at the competition: Safety Captain, Drive Team, etc. and how they can be managed with a small number of dedicated students,” Balke said. “Scouting will also be discussed, as well as rehearsal of talking with the judges.”

Teams from across the state will compete in at least two qualifying events in bids to earn a spot at the state championship, which is April 11-14 at Saginaw Valley State University.

Competitions run Thursday through Saturday at high schools located throughout Michigan. The pits open Thursday night, providing teams up to five hours to make any necessary modifications to their robots. The matches kick off Friday morning and continue throughout Saturday.

Scores from both competitions are combined, so consistency is key when it comes to qualifying. Some students are already predicting good results this year.

“The last two years we’ve come close to winning a few competitions; so, this year we’re really going for it,” Chow said. “We definitely have extra motivation going into this year.”

“We’re feeling like we might win some qualifying competitions like we did last year,” said Christopher Patino, member of the Detroit Cristo Rey High School Kinematic Wolves. “We’re confident.”

The 16 DTE-sponsored FRC teams will participate in qualifying events from Southfield to Traverse City.

Students and their teams appreciate the passionate support and crowd involvement at the events. It is another aspect that drives them to compete at their highest level.

“When you’re at the competitions it feels like every other sport, the crowd really gets into it,” Chow said. “It’s amazing to experience.”

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