Frog Force 503 celebrates its division win at the 2022 Michigan State Championship.

Frog Force 503 celebrates its division win at the 2022 Michigan State Championship.

Photo provided by Janelle Moore

Novi’s Frog Force 503 gears up for robotics season

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published January 11, 2023

 Nour Krichene strings the climbing mechanism on the 2022 competition robot in the Novi High School robotics shop.

Nour Krichene strings the climbing mechanism on the 2022 competition robot in the Novi High School robotics shop.

Photo provided by Janelle Moore

NOVI — Frog Force 503, Novi High School’s Hall of Fame, award-winning robotics team, geared up for a new season of competitive robotics Jan. 7 by hosting 38 teams for a kickoff party at the high school to watch the worldwide simulcast of this year’s game reveal.

Approximately 300 robotics students and their mentors started arriving at 10 a.m., and a few teams even brought their mascots, and then they had to wait for the announcement at 12:30 p.m. In the meantime, several mentors offered the students various lectures on a variety of topics related to robotics, such as engineering. Students also were able to talk with representatives from various colleges, including Wayne State University and the Grand Valley State University Detroit Center.

At 12:30 p.m. came the explanation of this year’s game, which has as its theme “energy.”

“From the machines that move us to the food that sustains us to the wireless technologies that connect us, energy plays an essential role in keeping our world running,” For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics, which oversees the sport, said in a prepared statement on its website. “During our 2022-2023 robotics season, our teams will reimagine the future of sustainable energy and power their ideas forward. Innovation can’t wait.”

The students will have six weeks to build a robot to compete in a game called “Charged Up.” In the game, the robots will be automated while moving cones and cubes to a destination for 15 seconds before students take over the controls and maneuver the robots through the course to line up additional cubes and cones while intermittently rolling over the Charged Up station, where students will also complete the game. Points will be given for various things, and the team with the most points will win the game.

“It’s a lot different than I was expecting it to be, to be completely honest,” said senior Luca Freise, 17. “We were thinking that we would have to lift something insanely high. We were thinking maybe 10-12 feet of extension, and this looks like it’s barely waist height. So, we’re definitely going to have to revise what we were thinking.”

Freshman Alice Chen, 15, agreed, saying that she was expecting an “elevator game,” meaning a robotics game that would require their robot to use an electronic lift mechanism.

“It is just, like, so different than we thought, and I think that’s good, because this could really make us think outside the box from what we were expecting before,” Chen said.

Chen said she felt the Charged Up game would allow the team to be especially creative. She said the game, although not simple, appeared to be straightforward.

“I think this is a great way that we can showcase what the team has,” said Chen.

According to team mentor Janelle Moore, the team has participated in games that required students to shoot some sort of a ball into a goal. She said that because of that, the team had been expecting to have a lifting or placing game this year. She said that the students, who don’t have a lot of experience building elevators, had been working on learning how to build that mechanism in the off season.

“Now they’re saying we don’t really need an elevator. But it’s going to be a very precise placing game,” said Moore.

Chen said she feels game strategy will be one of the greatest challenges this season. She said that last season they just had to shoot a ball into a goal, but this year they will have to think about where to place the objects to earn the most points.

Chen said she really likes robotics because it makes participants think and analyze everything, and she loves learning new things and applying them.

“This whole six-week deal and kickoff is very, very similar to, like, how any production prototype engineering company works,” said mentor Zack Moore, 25, a Novi High School graduate who had been a member of Frog Force and who now builds robots for the military. “My work does this exact same thing; they just do it over three to six months instead of six weeks.”

The Novi team is 100 members strong and was classified as a Hall of Fame team in 2021 when it was awarded the Chairman’s Award, which is now known as the Impact Award. According to assistant coach Anu Udupa, the team is one of just 34 teams to have ever received the Chairman’s Award.

“This is the highest award, at the highest competitive level, granted in the FIRST International Community. At each of the two annual World Championships, the Chairman’s Award is given to the one FIRST team out of 4,000 worldwide who has demonstrated measurable impact on their participants, school and community at large by promoting science and technology through FIRST programs. This is the ultimate award in FIRST robotics. It is the Olympic gold,” the team stated in a 2021 press release.

Because the team has Hall of Fame status, it automatically qualifies for the world competition in Houston every year. Along with the students, 10-20 people dedicate their time as mentors to help the students. Mentors aren’t necessarily parents, although some are; many of them just have a passion for the field and a desire to help the students learn.

The team will work on building and designing the robot daily for the next several weeks, with an average of three to eight hours put in each day. The first competition will be held in Milford in March.