Members of Team MetalCow Robotics work on this year's robot, "Chippy." (Photo by Carrie Muehling/WJBC)
By Carrie Muehling
NORMAL – For proof that 4-H has moved beyond showing livestock and baking cakes, look no further than Team MetalCow.
The robotics team is preparing for its second year of competition through an organization called FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.
“This is the varsity of intellectual competition. You take everything you learn at school, you take hands on experience, and you take kids who are motivated and willing to learn about science, math, technology and engineering. You bring it all together in one place,” said Dinesh Sahu, 4-H team president for MetalCow Robotics.
With the help of team mentors, the students take on the challenge of building a robot that will perform specific tasks to win a game at competition. They have six weeks to plan and build the robot. This year’s challenge is shooting Frisbees and climbing a pyramid.
There will be around 50 teams at the upcoming regional competition, but nearly 6,000 teams will compete in FIRST competition worldwide. Winning the regional competition would send the team to this year’s world competition in St. Louis. Last year’s team won the Robot Innovation award in their first year of competing.
Sahu leads the building team for the robot, but there are many other facets to the team. The electrical team handles the wiring and the coding team writes programs to make the robot work. Another team develops an animation game, which is a sidebar at the competition. The logistics team coordinates food and hotels during travel, as well as soliciting sponsors. Another team is completely in charge of artwork.
Sahu had experience at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) from attending his first two years of high school in Michigan and being on a team there. Along with several other students from around the area, he helped to begin the McLean County team last year. Adult mentors include parents of the student members and engineers from companies who help to sponsor the team. During the six week build season, students meet four weeknights and Saturdays to complete the robot. This year’s build site was Rader Family Farms. But Sahu said it is well worth the time.
“FIRST has really helped me get into college. I got accepted to U of I and Rose Hulman, places like that, and they all offer FIRST scholarships, because FIRST has about $20 million in scholarships per year, so one in every two or three people get a scholarship,” said Sahu.
Team MetalCow will compete at the regional FRC in March.
Carrie Muehling can be reached at email@example.com.