AutomationDirect’s Support of Robotics Then and Now

AutomationDirect considers itself a strong community partner, and one of our favorite community activities is sponsoring after school competition robotics programs. Why? Because it does such a great job of getting young minds engaged in learning. Attitudes change from “Why do I have to learn this science and math stuff?” to “Oh! I need to learn this science and math stuff!” when they realize how it applies to making their competition robot perform better.

It all started almost 12 years ago when one young man and a group of his friends approached us and asked if we would help them start a FIRST robotics team in the county. The cool thing about FIRST is that it stresses something called “Gracious Professionalism” and “Cooperation” – that is – it stresses winning by being gracious and professional and helping others succeed.

This mantra struck a chord with us here at AutomationDirect because that’s exactly the foundation that we built our entire business upon.

In the second year, the team realized it wasn’t just about building robots, but rather more about spreading the word. What word? Well, it didn’t exist back then, but today it is what we know as STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. So they asked AutomationDirect to help them do just that; the goal of planting a competition Robotics Team in every school in the county in five years. After seeing the effect of the program on the initial group of students, this was a no-brainer for AutomationDirect. Of course we wanted to help!

Fast forward to 2017, and instead of only one robotics team in each school in the county we now have schools running ten to twenty robotics teams. That’s right, in a little over ten years that one little robotics team has exploded into over 125 teams! They start in elementary school with Lego Robots and a similar robotics platform called VEX-IQ. In middle school they transition to VEX Robotics which is a lot like the old erector sets you may remember playing with as a child. However, these erector sets have a powerful microprocessor, Wi-Fi communications, pneumatics, PWM speed controllers, and a huge assortment of hardware. It’s everything an aspiring engineer could want in a box. Imagine – middle school kids programming micro-controllers using PID loops!

In high school students continue with the VEX platform and/or compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition – or “FRC.” The FRC Robots employ all the same rules as the VEX robots, except it is BIGGER – much bigger. A vex robot might be 12 to 18 inches and maybe 10-20 pounds; an FRC robot is 150 lbs. and typically several feet large.

The students also participate in MATE Robots, an underwater robotics program, and BEST Robotics where you are given a bunch of seemingly useless parts and then asked to build a robot from them.

The program has been successful beyond our wildest imagination with teams routinely qualifying for National and World championships. Imagine your child competing at the World level – Forsyth County students do it all the time. And, the contributions by the teachers of Forsyth County Schools along with the cooperation of the Board of Education has been paramount to the success of the program.

In 2017, Forsyth County had five elementary school teams, 8 middle school teams and 11 high school teams qualified for State, National and World Championships – amazing!

We call the program the “Forsyth Alliance” and it is one of the biggest and most successful programs of its type in the world. And, all AutomationDirect does is help start new teams – or as we prefer to call it: “planting the seeds.”

Oh, and that young man that started all of this so many years ago? He now works here with us at AutomationDirect. Our investment in the community is building employees for tomorrow in hopes of them coming back; that’s a win-win for everyone.

Check out these links to learn more about any of these programs:

FLL: (the Lego Robots): ….. http://www.firstinspires.com/robotics/fll
FRC: ……………………………… http://www.firstinspires.com/robotics/frc
VEX: ……………………………… www.vexrobotics.com
VEX-IQ: …………………………. www.vexrobotics.com/vexiq/
BEST Robotics ……………….. http://www.bestinc.org/
MATE Robotics ………………. https://www.marinetech.org/