Stateline Robotics Team helps special kids get around faster


(L to R) Baylor's mother, sister, brother and dad; Laura Johnson, Daniel Burchardt, Emma Burchardt, Tyler Hinson and Nick Johnson. Middle row: Arden Wisch, Reid Goss, Ian Schmidt, Gabriella Stormont and Abigail Barnhart. Baylor is in the center.

During the summer months, members of the Stateline Robotics Team 4655  at Hononegah Community High School take on a special project that helps others and improves their skills in building industrial size robots. Four years ago, the team modified and improved a special wheelchair for Jack, a local boy with cerebral palsy. With customizations in steering, and comfort and adding rubber wheels, Jack was able to play outside and be independently mobile for the first time.

Recently, the team modified and redesigned the same type of wheelchair for Baylor, a young local girl who has spina bifida. Baylor loves racing around in her special chair and is able to be more independent.

Mattel intended the Power Wheels Wild Thing as a ride-on battery-powered vehicle for kids ages 5-10 years "for advanced riders looking for more excitement and thrills than ever before!" But the robotics team has modified it to make it useful for children with special needs. “We modify the wheels, seat, controls, programming and drive system using our own funds and the skills the team learns in the shop."

They also published an instructional video on YouTube on how to modify the toy so that other robotics teams can help children in their communities.

FIRST Robotics is a national robotics community whose mission is to prepare young people for the future through a suite of inclusive, team-based robotics programs for pre-K to 12 that can be used in schools or in structured afterschool programs. It is backed by a global support system of volunteers, educators and sponsors that include over 200 of the Fortune 500 companies. The teams operate under a signature set of First Core Values to conduct research, design, build and showcase their achievement in annual challenges.

FIRST Core Values emphasize exploring new skills and ideas, using creativity and persistence to solve problems, applying what is learned to improve our world, respecting others, embracing differences, teamwork, and celebrating what they do.

FIRST Robotics founder Dean Kamen, engineer and inventor of the Segway and IBOT Mobility System, had a vision: to transform our culture by creating a world where science, engineering and technology skills are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.

Students on the team have been learning skills and getting first-hand experience in building industrial size robots. Lead mentors Kris King and Daniel Buchardt, along with 10 other volunteer mentors, work with the students 3-5 times a week. The team can be found hard at work spending more than 30 hours per week in the shop.

Kris King talks to the Stateline Robotics class about upcoming projects at the first meeting of the year. King and Daniel Buchardt (right) are the club's mentors and coaches. They meet with the robotics team three times every week..

In addition to engineering and technology skills, team members learn responsibility, financial and business skills, and collaboration. They learn how to design and build a brand and to develop partnerships with their community while also raising funds for special projects.

September through December is the preseason: “We build four mini-bots and will compete at Winnebago High School in the Flap Jack Competition, hosted by Winnovation, on December 2, 2023,” King said. This competition will prepare new team members for the official FIRST season and give veteran members an opportunity to become leaders.

Teams recently received a standard kit of parts and a common set of rules to play a themed, head-to-head challenge. The competition kickoff celebration is January 6, 2024. The FIRST Robotics Competition is billed “the hardest fun you’ll ever have” - the ultimate sport with the rigors of science and technology.

“We design, build, program, test and practice until the first regional competition March 20-23, 2024, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Our second competition will be March 27-30, 2024 in Chicago, IL. If we qualify, the World Championships are April 17-20 in Houston, Texas. This is an international event with over 600 teams from around the world,” says King.

Three examples of robotic equipment at Hononegah. The center robot is a T-shirt cannon, used at school sports events.

Post season is May through August 2024. The team works on special projects, community service, and co-hosting the R2OC off season competition with other local teams at Rock Valley College in July.

The students won the Gracious Professionalism Award in 2023, at the 1st regional competition in Peoria, IL. Gracious Professionalism is a core principle of the robotics program: a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community.

They were also awarded the Creativity Award at the 2nd regional competition in Lacrosse, WI. This award honors the machine they built. It celebrates creativity that enhances strategy of play and was intentionally designed and not discovered.

King said the team puts in a lot of hours and works hard on projects. They are planning to hold a toy drive that will allow them to modify toys for children with fine motor challenges. These modifications can be costly and they are currently looking for local sponsors to help.

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