Bionic Black Hawks to compete at world tournament

By: Alex Tekip | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 27, 2016


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The Bionic Black Hawks, Bloomfield Hills High School’s robotics team, will represent Michigan and the United States at the FIRST Robotics world championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis April 27-30.

The trip to worlds is the team’s fifth in five years. It comes as a result of receiving the FIRST State of Michigan Chairman’s Award during the state finals in Grand Rapids the weekend of April 14-16. The Chairman’s Award, the most prestigious honor in  FIRST,  recognizes a team’s entire body of work over more than a year. Community involvement, robot performance and  inspiring students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math are some aspects that FIRST considers for the Chairman’s Award.

“We make a presentation for our entire body of work that’s taken place over years,” said Bionic Black Hawks coach Andy Raine. “Not just this year, but going back three, four, five years, all what we do, and you’re recognized really for that.”

Three members of the Bionic Black Hawks presented the team’s case for the Chairman’s Award to FIRST judges at districts in Battle Creek March 10-12, then at the state competition. The Bionic Black Hawks were one of four teams from Michigan to receive the award, with the others being from Novi High School, Ypsilanti Community High STEM Academy and Petoskey High School.

The Bionic Black Hawks are currently ranked 16th among FIRST Robotics teams in Michigan. On the performance end, the team won its district competitions in Battle Creek and Howell. From an outreach standpoint, the Bionic Black Hawks put on a yearly girls-only robotics competition each October, mentor elementary and middle school robotics teams in the district, and have participated in STEM-based community service in Detroit.

“The robot goes to the tournament and performs, but this Chairman’s Award that you’re recognized for is for recognizing all of what you do,”  said Raine.

Senior James Juncker co-captains the Bionic Black Hawks with Raine’s son, Adam. Juncker, who drives the team’s robot, has been a member of the high school team since eighth grade, when it was made up of students from the old Andover and Lahser high schools. He said he’s excited for the opportunity to end his final high school robotics season on a high note.

“We’ve been doing really well this season, and I’m really excited by the fact that we’ve been able to make it this far and rank this well. ... I think the entire team’s really happy with the performance that we’ve had so far leading up to now, and we’re ready to go to worlds and give it our best there,” said Juncker.

Freshman Maya Murray is new to the Bionic Black Hawks.

“It’s really exciting for me to have gotten this far in my first year,” she said.

Murray was involved in robotics in middle school, has mentored elementary school robotics teams and participated in Science Olympiad. She joined the Bionic Black Hawks because she thought it would be a good way to use her STEM skills, which have improved greatly as a result of joining the team.

“I have learned so much. It’s crazy,” she said. “We’ve learned how to use tools and how to work together and how to problem-solve, mostly because if something doesn’t work in your initial design, then you have to rethink it and redesign or you just have to troubleshoot in the process.”

As an organization, FIRST determines a game each year, which is announced on “kickoff day.” All FIRST teams have six weeks to design a robot that they believe to be the best solution to scoring points in the games. This year’s contest was a medieval-themed game called Stronghold, where teams earned points by tossing boulders — large rubber balls — into a small window of a castle and crossing obstacles designed to simulate different types of terrain.

Raine said one of the most fascinating aspects of the world competition is all the various solutions that each team designed.

“There are thousands of teams that hear the kickoff at the same time, and then six weeks later there are literally that many solutions,” he said. “There are no two that are alike or identical.”

Raine said the Bionic Black Hawks are in competition routine following the state and district tournaments. He said he’s confident that the team will perform well at worlds, as long as they make the necessary tweaks to the robot and get some rest.

“To have a chance to say that you competed at the world championship level is a fantastic opportunity for anybody, any high school student,” he said.