Robotics teams across Okaloosa County were recently able to visit Kennedy Space Center in Southeast Florida, allowing them to prepare for upcoming robotics competitions. Participating teams were from the following schools: Bob Sikes Elementary, Davidson Middle, Pryor Middle, Shoal River, and STEMM Academy. Donations from NWFMC, the Eglin Air Force Association, and the Doolittle Institute helped fund this trip.
Okaloosa schools compete in the yearly-themed FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics competitions. This year’s theme, “Into Orbit,” centers on space travel. “This trip to the Kennedy Space Center will help students see the challenges of space travel and inspire students for the upcoming robotics season,” says Curt Palermo, the Pryor Middle School coach. “It’s an amazing opportunity for all of these students. Seeing a lot of exhibits that actually went to space is a once-in-a-lifetime event for some of our students.”
Using LEGO Mindstorm kits, students must build and program a robot to accomplish tasks autonomously. Teams must also identify and solve an issue that astronauts may face after long periods of living in space. “It’s always exciting to see what our teams pick for their projects. What people may not know is that there is a lot more going on than just robotics. Students have to learn to think, problem solve, and create,” says Jennifer Kiel, who has coached the STEMM Stingers for five years.
“Okaloosa robotics teams are consistently some of the best performing teams in the state,” states Dottie Holland, Rockin’ Robots coach. “Our Bob Sikes team earned an invite to the FIRST World Competition two years ago and every year we have multiple teams invited to the Regional and State Competitions. Some of the best teams are right here in Okaloosa County.”
Like any other team, students must work hard to fund equipment and entry fees. Laurie Allen, Shoal River Robotics coach, has gotten creative on her team’s fundraising. “We have done everything from running concession stands at events to hosting a 5K obstacle course mud run in Crestview for the last three years. Our season is all school year and paying for robots, travel, and tournament fees can add up. We are always looking for sponsors, experts, and even volunteers who can help and inspire our students.” Many teams have local sponsors that help support robotics in Okaloosa County. If you are interested in helping, please contact your local school.