Michigan tops in robotics with the help of local utilities

Rebecca Harris, Research Analyst –

In 2017 Michigan had more teams compete in the FIRST international robotics competition than any other state or county. Ninety high school teams competed from Michigan, in part because of support from DTE Energy and Consumers Energy. These utilities want to help build the next generation of engineers and programmers for their companies, communities and state.

FIRST competitions include robotics leagues for every student level, beginning with Lego-based robots in elementary school, and moving up to metal designs for middle and high schoolers. Student teams buy a robot kit from FIRST, and build and program the robot for use in competitions. Veteran teams reuse their robots year-to-year.

However, competing costs money. The kits themselves cost hundreds of dollars, and teams have to pay for travel to competitions. DTE Energy Foundation granted $300,000 to FIRST programs, sponsoring 16 middle school and 20 high school teams. When FIRST updated its robot controller in 2017, DTE Energy granted $50,000 for all veteran middle school teams in Michigan to purchase the new model so Michigan teams will remain competitive.

DTE Energy doesn’t just provide money for kits. Dozens of DTE employees also volunteer to mentor DTE-sponsored teams. They teach students about computer programming and engineering as teams build and program their robots.

Leading up to this year’s championship in Detroit, DTE Energy is spotlighting different teams and students on its Empowering Michigan website. For example, one team takes their robot to a home for U.S. military veterans, teaching residents how to drive the robot and learning about their lives. Another competitor was inspired by her experience in FIRST competitions to pursue a mechanical engineering degree at Michigan State University.

If you are interested in learning more about how other utilities are marketing their community outreach efforts, join Chartwell’s Customer Communications Leadership Council by emailing Tim Herrick at therrick@chartwellinc.com.

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