Robots are changing the way we do almost everything. How we shop, receive healthcare, drive – nothing is off the table and a wide range of industries are adapting to keep pace. Perhaps leading the pack is the United States military. All five branches have made technological advancements to better protect the country and its citizens. In particular, the U.S. Army is already employing various robotic and autonomous systems, but it has clearly set a course to do much more.
In March of 2017, the U.S. Army’s Capabilities Integration Center published the first Robotic and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Strategy with a central objective:
“The Army must pursue robotic and autonomous systems capabilities with urgency because adversaries are developing and employing a broad range of advanced robotic and autonomous systems technologies as well as employing new tactics to disrupt U.S. military strengths and exploit perceived weaknesses. Robotic and autonomous systems are increasingly important to ensuring freedom of maneuver and mission accomplishment with the least possible risk to soldiers.”
With that goal in mind, the Association of the U.S. Army recently hosted an Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition in Detroit. The two-day event saw hundreds of military leaders, defense industry representatives and robotics experts gather to showcase how the U.S. Army is developing critical capabilities in robotics, autonomy, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The ultimate goal – provide an open forum for attendees to discuss the Army’s efforts in creating autonomous systems while also providing a platform for industry partners to demonstrate technology breakthroughs that could help the military.
Four Macomb County FIRST Robotics teams took full advantage of that platform. Working with Macomb County Planning and Economic Development, these high school students had access to a special booth on the show floor. Here they demonstrated their engineering and programming skills by driving their custom-built robots and executing challenges. But perhaps more importantly, the space allowed the students to explain their FIRST Robotics program to high-ranking military leaders who had never heard of the organization.
As background, FIRST Robotics is a program that inspires young people to become science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs and competitions. These events challenge students to raise funds, design a brand, hone teamwork skills and build and program industrial-size robots that play difficult field games against like-minded competitors. Simply put – it’s training that will build the STEM-ready workforce of tomorrow. These students will one day fill jobs like mechanical engineer or software developer. They will drive innovation and create solutions to problems that we have yet to encounter. They will lead us into the future.
Why would this matter to the U.S. Army? Well, the technological experience and problem solving abilities of FIRST Robotics students will be key to modernizing the military for the 21st century and beyond. And while the majority of these young people will likely enter the private sector, anything they invent or develop will crossover and be of use to the Army. So having the opportunity to meet these students now, while they are still in high school, can help the military forecast their future. Which is why several leaders visited the Macomb County/FIRST Robotics booth. They engaged the students in conversation, asked questions and inquired about sponsorships and internships. All told, they sparked the beginning of what could be a very mutually beneficial relationship that will help advance the interests of both the FIRST students and the U.S. Army now and well into the future.
Please note: You do not have to be in the military to make a connection with these talented FIRST Robotics students. So if you work for or run a company that would be interested in sponsorship, mentoring, hosting or simply meeting these teams, click here to take the next step. Macomb County Planning and Economic Development will help you reach the right team and build the right relationship.
Thank you to the four FIRST teams that participated at the expo:
- ThunderChickens: Founded 20 years ago, the ThunderChickens are based out of Sterling Heights and the Utica Community Schools. The team, which has more than 100 students, has been to the FIRST Robotics World Championship 17 times, winning the event twice. In 2018, the ThunderChickens were a runner-up.
- Crevolution: Crevolution is a FIRST team, created by The Thunderchickens, consisting of high school students from the Utica Community School district.
- Byting Bulldogs: The Byting Bulldogs are based out of Romeo. The team has 55 student members.
- AM.ROBOT 4810: The I.AM.ROBOT team has 58 members. It was founded seven years ago at the International Academy of Macomb.
Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.