As part of this year’s competition, the robots must operate autonomously for 15 seconds while performing several tasks. They are driven by small but powerful electric motors and can do such things as the tank turn and a version of the crabwalk, which are features of electric vehicles from Rivian and GMC Hummer.

“Some of the strategies they are designing in terms of controlling how the robot moves or how it operates its appendages to move the game pieces around and score points is a similar skill set to what we need to control vehicles,” said Birgit Sorgenfrei, a project lead on advanced driver assistance systems at Ford. The students planning on a career in the auto industry after working on a FIRST team often have an advantage over those who don’t participate, she said.

“When we’re looking at students for internships and when they’re interviewing for full-time positions at Ford, we look to see if they have FIRST experience,” said Sorgenfrei, a FIRST judge for more than 20 years.

As for the Algonac team, turns out the bracket wasn’t needed, Cournoyer said. The Full Metal Muskrats didn’t advance to the next round.

But winning isn’t the most important part, Cournoyer said. The most important lessons in FIRST Robotics competition, he said, are “teamwork and being able to work with others, being able to work under pressure, identifying when somebody else may be better at task than they are, and then learning from them.”

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