RENO, NV - Building a robot is not an easy task. But some local high school students think they are up to the challenge.
They are the FIRST Young Robotic Engineers, or FYRE Team, the only FIRST Robotics Competition team in northern Nevada. The group is made up of kids ranging in ages from 13 to 17 and until about two weeks ago most of them were strangers.
"Most of the people back here I didn't know from the first week or two," Connor Novak, a FYRE team member said. "But we're already great friends because we've been put through so much,"
The kids, who all have different backgrounds and interests, have come together for one goal - to build a robot that can compete at the FRC Regionals in Las Vegas. They want to win, but for Kerry Thompson, one of the coaches for the FYRE team, watching the kids grow and work together is the best part of the competition.
"It's more than building a robot," Thompson said. "Building the robot is obviously the focus. But in the middle of all that you've got 16 kids who didn't really know each other before hand and they're now spending like 20 hours a week with each other in an intensive, stressful environment. We have some very shy kids on this team and just over two weeks they are starting to come out of their shell and voice their opinions."
The kids have six weeks to design and build the robot which means almost all of their free time is spent together making everything work.
"This team means everything to me," Alex Selip, a FYRE team member said. "I'm spending more time with these people in the next six weeks than I am with my own family. "
Building a robot is the goal, but the students are learning valuable life lessons it takes many people years to learn.
"You're training kids from an early age in not only programming, electrical and mechanical," Novak said. "But you're also training them in how to work together as a team, how to solve problems and think of things spatially."
"It teaches teens all about technology and engineering," Selip added. "They get a lot of job skill a lot of life skills. They learn how to manage money, how to manage time."
This goal is not without it's challenges. From designing the robot to raising the fund to build it, the kids are learning what it takes to make a goal a reality. The main road block for the team is raising enough money to compete. The entire competition season costs about $20,000. That includes the cost of the robot, registration for the competitions, and travel and lodging cost for the team. Thompson says reaching the goal is important because she wants to keep the team free for every kid involved.
"It's my belief and FIRST's believe that no kid should not be able to do this," Thompson said. "So any kid that wants to be on this particular FRC team can. It doesn't cost the family anything. We fund raise everything or get donations from the community to support the team.
But the team is only half way to their goal.
"Unfortunately right now any money that we're getting in is going to travel costs so if we don't reach this goal, we may not have the robot that does what we really want it to do and what it needs to do," Thompson said.
Right now, the team is relying on scrap parts donated from local business to build their robot. They until March to meet their fundraising goal. That's when they will be heading to Vegas to compete in the FRC Regionals. And competing will give them more than just the chance to win.
"We can show people that we know what we're doing," Selip said. "There are a lot of scholarship opportunities, a lot of job opportunities. So we get a lot of opportunities that other people don't get because they're not in this program."
But no matter what, the students are learning skills that will set them up for future success especially as Nevada makes its name in the technology sector.
"It's going to be a much bigger part of the community in the coming years and we need young people who are interested in that and good in that to keep Reno growing," Novak said.
To help the students meet their fundraising goal, just visit their website. You can find the link attached to this story.