Robots and kids descended on Kent this weekend for an engineering competition

High school aged kids watch their robot maneuver on a stage at a Kent State auditorium while a judge looks on
The winning team, 8 To Automate, watches as their robot drops a cup over a pole. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

Several teams of robot-wielding kids challenged each other with their creations at Kent State’s student center Saturday in a robotics tournament that sent one team from Ohio to the state championship taking place March 12 near Dayton. 

KSS Robotics, a nonprofit in Kent focused on youth education, hosted the tournament in cooperation with Kent State’s College of Aeronautics and Engineering.

The students ranged from first graders to high school seniors. The objective was to impress the judges about the way their robots were designed and brought to fruition.

Robots are operated by a remote command wireless joystick. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

“All eight teams have been working, giving presentations to the judges about their journey this year,” said Michael Rudder, an engineer with Rockwell Automation and a coach with FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). FIRST is a global nonprofit that advocates for science, tech and math education. 

They told the judges “about how they developed their robot this year, how they’ve designed their robot, how they put their team together, how they went out and sought sponsors for fundraising, how they connected to businesses to get professionals to come in and give them design ideas. All of that is part of the judged awards.” 

Sam Watkins, 15, from LaBrae High School in Leavittsburg, said his team, the RoboVikes, had been working on their robot for four months to get it ready for the tournament.

“It uses four, 21-gear boxes,” Watkins said. “It uses Tetrix motors with Mecanum wheels, wheels that have smaller wheels in them that allow you to move in all four directions, including straight, and to the sides.”

He went on: “We also have this, which is called a cascading lift. As this motor turns it pulls on a string through a system of pulleys, it raises this up (the arm). That allows us to go pretty high at maximum speed. Also, on the front we have this gripper, here, which is a couple bent plates that are affixed to a single servo that’s geared to itself and has these little silicone one-inch bands on it that allow for a compliant grip to the cone.”

You know, typical kid stuff.

After high school, Watkins said he plans to join the Air Force ROTC program and major in aeronautical engineering.

The FIRST Tech Challenge competition’s final results for the robot battle fell in favor of a team called 8 To Automate from Dublin, Ohio, winning the Alliance Capitan Award. The finalist was Cloverleaf Robotics from Seville.

Dillon White with NDLC Robotics works with his team’s robot during the competition. Jeremy Brown/The Portager

The judged award, known as the Inspire Award, went to the team Electric Hornets from Kirtland. 

Even though the competitive segment of the tournament was reserved for youths from fourth grade through 12th grade, there were plenty of enriching activities for children ages 6 to 10. 

Kent State Aeronautics and Engineering student Autumn Ohl helped create the activities for First LEGO League (Explore), which serves those younger children.

“They built their own little lego city and had different moving parts and a story behind what they built,” she said. “The judges came around and [children] would explain to them what they built and why they built it the way that they did.”

Another activity involved the science of chemistry and sound.

“So they made mini lava lamps and little windpipes with straws,” she said. “Another activity was they made a helicopter with a rubber band and they would twist the propeller with the rubber band, and they would let it go, and it would spin in the air.”

KSS Robotics President Nathan Sterrett encourages students who are interested in robotics to join First LEGO League (Explore) or FIRST Tech Challenge for older kids, which offer year-round educational opportunities and a chance to compete at the state level.

“We’re always looking for more kids to participate,” Sterrett said. “This isn’t something you need to be from a given school district. We have programs for first grade, kindergarten, all the way through 12th grade, and we do summer camps over the summer. We have five weeks of summer camps, everything from third and fourth grade, to the combat robotics camp, and a high school camp.” 

Learn more about joining the teams at

Jeremy Brown
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