Central Middle School students participating in the school’s inaugural FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team were expecting this year to be more of a learning curve and less of a championship season.

But despite their inexperience, the rookie team has built a robot with the help of local engineers, parents and coaches that will compete at the Indiana State Championship on Feb. 21 in Lafayette.

FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 as a way to get students to get involved in science and related fields while also teaching them business and life skills including teamwork, problem solving and creativity.

FIRST involves four levels of student competitions, separated by age groups — FIRST Tech Challenge is the middle school competition.

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Fourteen Central Middle School students and nine mentors make up team Juden-Ki, which is Japanese for “Chargers,” something the team picked when exchange students visited the school. They’ve been meeting since September on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Central science teacher, coach and team founder Kate Slabosky said she thought it would be fun to start a robotics team and decided to have a call out meeting at the beginning of the school year. It was also something Columbus North and East high schools FIRST Robotics Challenge (FRC) robotics team GalacTech was pushing for, she said.

Last year, Central Middle School had a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team but was competing against mostly elementary school teams, Slabosky said. Her students were ready for a new challenge, but before they moved on to the high school team, she thought the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) team would be a good stepping stone.

And now, with the season’s end approaching, the students are taking on bigger roles such as programing the robot’s actions and movements to respond to a remote control, designing the robot in a computer-aided design (CAD) program and developing community outreach.

The group logs everything done at team practices in an “engineering notebook” which is turned in and reviewed by judges at each competition.

Juden-Ki Robotics will compete on Feb. 21 at Lafayette Tecumseh Junior High School at 2101 S. 18th St. with 23 other teams from throughout Indiana and Ohio.

“At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of adult participation and getting things accomplished, but now we have students that lead the meetings,” she said. “We’re the first FTC team in Columbus.”

Since September, the students and their mentors have been working to build a robot to compete against dozens of other middle school teams. The robot is allowed to weigh as much as the team wants but has to fit in a box measuring 18 inches tall, 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep.

Slabosky said the team needs about $2,000 to compete, which includes $700 spent on the materials for the robot.

The high school robotics team GalacTech, the law firm Thomasson, Thomasson, Long & Guthrie, P.C. and a grant from FIRST helped pay for the middle school students to build the robot and compete.

At the competitions, teams work in an alliance with other teams, competing in an area with a ramp and a parking zone. The teams are playing a sort of robot basketball and trying to score Wiffle balls into goals while also moving the goals around to make scoring harder for the opposite team. At the competitions, robots work through three periods: an autonomous period, a driver-controlled period and an “end-game” period.

The team advanced to the state finals after competing in the South Central Indiana FTC Qualifying Tournament at Southwestern High School in Shelbyville in January.

Tyler Guthrie, an eighth-grader and designer with the team, said he started competing in FLL in fourth grade and really enjoyed the experience throughout elementary school. Once he heard Central had a FTC team, he was sold.

“I’ve done pretty much everything. I did a little bit of the design for a while and I did some of the building,” he said. “The second driver isn’t going to be at the competition so I’m trying to learn how to be the second-second driver.”

For some of the mentors, being part of Juden-Ki Robotics is living out a childhood dream. Richard Power, a product validation engineer for Cummins, Inc., said he wished he would have been involved with FIRST teams when he was eligible.

“I really wish I would have done this. I never really had the chance to do this because mostly, I didn’t know. I was pretty much doing it myself and didn’t even realize it,” he said. “When I first moved here, I went to the farmers market, and the FRC team was having a fundraiser. I saw them, and they had a robot that was shooting out Frisbees.”

Power said he asked if any teams needed mentors and found at that the Central team had just been formed. He has been part of the team since August and has mostly been involved on the technical aspect of the team, helping the students build the robot.

When he was a kid, Power said his father purchased a robot kit similar to the one the team has. He would complete tasks that came with kit such as building a robot that can climb up and down stairs. Being able to help the students complete their own tasks is something he enjoys the most, he said.

“It’s the getting messy just thinking of ideas and brainstorming, that was my favorite part when I was trying to make robots on my own,” he said.

Power’s knowledge of robotics has helped many of the students learn about what they can and can’t do with the parts they have.

Henry Beckstein, a Central eighth-grader, was part of a robotics team in sixth grade while living in South Carolina, but the team began meeting less frequently.

After moving to Columbus, he heard from other students that there was a new robotics team and knew he wanted to get involved.

“I really missed doing things after school, and it’s a good way to meet people who like robotics,” he said. “I’ll design things with two or three other people, and they’ll build it. It’s cool because I can figure out how the pieces will go together before we build it.”

About the team

Central Middle School’s robotics team Juden-Ki Robotics is made up of 14 students and nine mentors.

The consists of the following students:

  • Tyler Guthrie
  • Aishwarya Pattel
  • Raj Joshi
  • Dillon Clark
  • Joey Zhao
  • Jack Hawkins
  • Isha Chavan
  • Helen Rumsey
  • Henry Beckstein
  • Colby Hertle
  • Ryan Haines
  • Isabel Sanchez
  • Luis Yanez
  • Joelle Schaibley

The team consists of the following mentors:

  • Kate Slabosky
  • Carolyn Buthrie
  • Jeremy Crismore
  • Richard Power
  • Chad Cole
  • Josh Fuhs
  • Karla Fuhs
  • Greg Haines
  • Jennifer Rumsey

Want to help?

Those interested in helping fund Central Middle School robotics team Juden-Ki Robotics trip to the 2015 Indiana State Championship can do so by contacting the middle school at 725 Seventh St. in Columbus.

Those interested in being a mentor for the team can contact Kate Slabosky at slaboskyk@bcsc.k12.in.us.

If you go

WHAT: 2015 FIRST Tech Challenge Indiana State Championship

WHERE: Lafayette Tecumseh Junior High School at 2101 S. 18th St. in Lafayette

WHEN: Feb. 21. Doors open at 7:30 a.m. and opening ceremonies start at 10 a.m.

ADMISSION: Free to the general public

QUESTIONS: Contact Steve Florence, regional director, at sflorence@usfirst.org or Lori Hall, affiliate partner at norinftc4u@gamil.com