Someday, Mountlake Terrace juniors Brandon Crader and Derek Burkett could be designing airplanes, bridges or fuel-efficient cars.
Crader and Burkett, the captains of the Mountlake Terrace Robotics Team, last weekend led their team’s robot into the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition at KeyArena.
About 6,000 people turned out to watch the competition, which is the culmination of thousands of hours of work by the students who built and tested their robots.
“For me, it’s something I’ve grown to like,” said Crader, who is in his third year participating in the program. “Also you’re doing something with friends that you have, so it’s even more fun.”
The team, which finished second the previous two years, ended up 43rd because of equipment failure on the final day. But the team still picked up the Entrepreneurship Award for its business plan and the Industrial Safety Award.
FIRST, which started about 18 years ago to promote science and math to young people, creates a real-world engineering experience that requires students to perform under a deadline and a budget.
The parameters of the game were revealed to students Jan. 3. Then they received a kit with some electronics, chains, a compressor and a bit of wire.
The students have to buy the rest but cannot spend more than $400 per part or $3,500 total on the robot. The robot also cannot weigh more than 120 pounds.
The students held a daily meeting after school in the machine shop and split into smaller groups to get the tasks completed.
“That’s the most fun part: building the robot from metal into what it actually is,” student Robert Koenig said.
About 25 Mountlake Terrace students spent hundreds of hours working on their robot, named “Chilly.”
The goal of the game this year was to score points by picking up balls and putting them in a trailer hooked to an opponent’s robot.
“Coming up with a robot in six weeks that can do this was very difficult,” Burkett said. “We’re a veteran team so we have all these previous ideas of what to do and how to drive on carpet, while the challenge this year was to drive on stuff that’s slick as ice.”
The students learn subjects such as programming, metal fabrication and project management to get the robot up and running.
The students on the team also have to raise funds to pay the $25,000 to $30,000 it costs to run a full-year program. The team raised more than $9,000 at a dinner and auction last fall. The rest of the money was raised from companies in the area.
One of the team’s 11 mentors, Jeff Stone, is from Boeing, and the plane manufacturer agreed to give $6,000 to each FIRST team with a Boeing engineer onboard.
Mentors are a huge part of the program.
The team’s main mentor is Kevin Crader, Brandon’s father, who works as a systems specialist at CH2M Hill in Bellevue. The company provides support for Crader’s mentoring, and he estimates he’s spent more than 500 hours assisting during the building phase.
“It’s very rewarding to watch the kids grow and go into competition,” Kevin Crader said.
Local high school finishers
Jackson High School, Rookie All-Star Award. Moves on to national competition in Atlanta, Ga., April 16-18.
Lynnwood High School, 35th place.
Mountlake Terrace High School, 43rd place, received Entrepreneurship and Industrial Safety awards.
For more information, go to www.firstwa.org.