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Student engineers from across NW Florida put robots to the test

Leon County students compete in a robotics competition at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
Leon County students compete in a robotics competition at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023.

Middle and high school students from Leon and Okaloosa Counties competed in their first match of the year at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering over the weekend.

“The first thirty seconds of their match is all autonomous, so they’ve been coding that and perfecting it," explained Lauren Bierman, the STEM program manager with the DooLittle Institute, which manages FIRST robotics competitions across Northwest Florida. "After those thirty seconds it’s driver-controlled. So they have programmed essentially X-box controllers to become the controller for these robots all through Android phones and javascript."

At the event, students at the FIRST Robotics Competition kickoff competed in head-to-head challenges with robots they'd worked on building since September. Their robots were tasked with stacking as many cones on poles as they could in the span of a few minutes.

Three teams were with TallyRobotics, a local organization that provides students in Leon County the opportunity to compete in FIRST robotics contests. The extra curricular activity requires teams to meet a few times a week to work on building their robot.

One of them was called "The Imposters." Member Kenna McMillan is a sophomore at Florida Virtual School.

“Understanding the mechanisms, putting it all together and just like seeing your ideas come to life and working out on the field and I’m a driver on our team as well and it’s just really cool to be able to drive something that you built yourself.”

Another member of "The Imposters" is Jack Fraser, a 7th grader at Swift Creek Middle School.

“It helps a lot with problem solving skills, especially at competitions because you’ll be running matches and there will be this problem and you’ll have to go fix it before your next match, which will be really soon.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.