Washtenaw Robotics Competition Returns at New Library Venue

The annual Washtenaw Area Pick Up Robotics (WAPUR) competition occurs on Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Ann Arbor District Library’s (AADL) warehouse at 265 Parkland Plaza, just off Jackson Rd, and is free and open to the public.

“WAPUR 2022 is open and free to attend for anyone who’d like to come to watch robots fight over mop buckets from 2-6 p.m – on Saturday, Dec. 17  with the finals starting at 5 p.m,” AADL Director Eli Neiburger said.

Neiburger has worked at the AADL for 25 years and has been director since April 2021.

“We have a new game designed to make for fun, fast matches and lots of opportunities for kids and families to cheer on their favorite robots,” Neiburger said. “One of the rules is that each robot must have a name and a face so it should be easy to choose a favorite.”

Photo courtesy Eli Neiburger

High School “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology ” (FIRST) Robotics teams attending include Huron, Skyline, Pioneer, Community High, Saline, Whitmore Lake, Father Gabriel Richard, and Rudolf Steiner School.

AADL is committed to reaching out to promote community and educational events.

“AADL always looks for opportunities to help community events grow and leave the nest, as it were,” Neiburger said. “When I got involved with FIRST through my own kids’ interest in the program, I saw an opportunity to help make something happen that teams were struggling to pull off alongside all their other activities and responsibilities. With our help, WAPUR could reach a lot of kids and families who wouldn’t otherwise be aware.”

Neiburger added that FIRST has a fairly low profile at Ann Arbor Public Schools, and many students who might be interested in getting involved don’t know about the opportunities these teams offer. 

“Helping make connections like that happen between local organizations and a wider audience is where the library’s resources can really make a huge impact for everyone involved,” Neiburger said.

AADL even took part in helping to design the rules and tasks of this robotics competition.

Photo by Possessed Photography

“The game involves two teams of two robots each fighting over rolling mop buckets and trying to get them into scoring positions before the time runs out,” Neiburger said. “Extra points can be had if robots can place playground balls in the buckets, and near the end of the match, kids from the audience will throw a tennis ball onto each side of the field, with bonus points available if the robots are able to chase down the tiny ball and get it into the wringer of a mop bucket before time runs out. AADL designed this challenge with support and feedback from local FRC (FIRST robotics competition)  teams.”

There will also be educational STEAM displays at the competition. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics.

Image courtesy of Robert McGinnis

“Each team will be staffing an outreach table where attendees can learn about the team and its activities, the FIRST series of robotics events for kids of all ages, and what knowledge, skills, and capabilities kids can gain from their involvement in K12 Robotics through FIRST,” he explained. “Dean Kamen, the creator of FIRST, always says that Robotics is the only high school sport in which every participant can go pro, and it’s so true. FIRST offers kids a fun, engaging experience that is much more like a workplace than anything in the K12 curricula.”

The history of the term “WAPUR” is of interest also.

“WAPUR stands for Washtenaw Area Pick Up Robotics,” Neiburger explained. “The Skyline High School Robotics Team came up with the idea on the bus back from the FIRST Robotics Competition World Championships in 2015 as a way for local teams to have fun training their new members and get some low-pressure practice for their intense annual robotics building and competition season. In 2018, AADL hosted the event jammed into the lobby of the Downtown Library, and in 2019, AADL rented the Umich Coliseum to host the event. This is the event’s triumphant return.”

One doesn’t need to bring anything or have any particular background to enjoy the fun.

“Just drop by starting at 2 p.m. to start your kid’s robotics journey!” Neiburger exclaimed. “FIRST is an absolutely terrific nonprofit program that gives kids skills and experiences they can’t get anywhere else, and WAPUR is a great way to find out more about what it’s all about!”

Full disclosure:  Iadipaolo graduated with honors from the University of Michigan with teaching certificates in mathematics, English, and social sciences. Iadipaolo went on to earn three graduate degrees: a Master of Arts, a Master of Science, and Education Specialist degrees. In addition to being a journalist, she is a STEAM teacher, serving since 1990.

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