Gearing up for their seventh year of competition, the Lanier High School robotics club has had to make a few adjustments this year. 

The club was founded in 2012 by teacher Mike Reilly and is associated with the organization FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), as Team 4509. Every year, the club constructs a robot from the ground up and takes it to compete against other schools, where team members have the opportunity to win scholarships and recognition. The students in the club handle the designing, building and programming of their robot. The club competes under the name Mechanical Bulls. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused trouble for the team, especially with the significant increase in members this school year. Earlier in the year, the second FIRST Robotics Competition of 2020 was cancelled. In the 2020-2021 school year, the club had to implement masks and social distancing in its meetings. These in-person meetings have been supplemented with online meetings for students who chose the digital learning option. While the online participants cannot work with the robot physically, they can still help with its programming and watch its progress. The pandemic has also made the team’s future uncertain, as the 2021 tournaments are in limbo. 

“We’ve made the difficult decision to open FIRST Robotics Competition registration built around a season experience that does not include in-person game play,” the FIRST website states. “If conditions change, we will evaluate the possibility of adding in-person game play events later this season.” 

In Robotics Club, students learn skills they won’t find in their normal classes. The club uses a room called the Makerspace, a space filled with all types of sophisticated tools and technology. There are 3D printers, saws, laser cutters and a variety of other machines. Members of the club learn how to use this tech safely and effectively in service of making a great robot. 

The 2021 FIRST Robotics Competition season is scheduled to kickoff Jan. 9, 2021, and despite the obstacles, the Mechanical Bulls intend to compete. 

Greyson Watkins

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