Local robotics team builds on all skills

Team members Ethan Michalicek, Peter Kersulis and Brandon Sanders pose with their trophies after winning the Inspire Award at the UMKC qualifier in Kansas City earlier this month. (submitted photos)

A local high school robotics team is building a bright future in engineering and technology skills.

Peter Kersulis of Waterloo, one of the team’s three members, helps build robots during the team’s season, which runs September through April.

During this time, they take part in anywhere between four and seven competitions yearly.

Kersulis is part of a team known as Café Bot, which is a FIRST TechChallenge high school robotics team. FTC is designed for high school students who want to compete head-to-head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building and programming a robot to compete in an alliance format against other teams.

Most recently, the Café Bot team took first place and won the Inspire Award at the University of Missouri – Kansas City qualifying competition and will compete at the Missouri Championship on March 1.

At only 16 and 17 years old, respectively, Kersulis and teammate Brandon Sanders of Webster Groves, Mo., are getting the kind of experience that will be extremely valuable to them in the future as engineers.

Their team won the award based on certain criteria including an excellent robot, excellent team spirit, image, robot documentation and outreach in the community.

In their off-season, they take part in community outreach and other community events, which helps raise money for the team.

The robots are expensive and can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 each year.

Luckily, the team has corporate sponsors like SAIC, Nidec Motor Corporation and Archway Legal Services who help the team with their finances.

Tasks the robots are expected to complete change each year, along with the robots themselves.

At the Missouri Championship on March 1, the team will compete against 35 other teams for 11 qualification spots.

“When it comes down to crunch time right before a competition, we meet every night,” Kersulis said. “Otherwise we meet about three or four times a week.”

Kersulis said it’s fairly easy to get the team together to meet because all three members are homeschooled.

“We really get to work on our own schedules,” he said.

In addition to the robotics team, Sanders develops software for companies.

Kersulis picks up various jobs from neighbors and friends.

In the future, Kersulis wants to go into something involving math, programming and engineering. Sanders wants to go into mechanical software electrical engineering for general robotics.

“You can’t only look at the word robotics, because there’s so much more to it,” Kersulis said. “The robot’s just a tiny part.”

Kersulis said his favorite part of being on the team is getting to learn new mechanical skills and being able to run machines.

“I want to get as much as I can under my belt,” he said. “You get better being involved with other people in the competition as well.”

Kersulis does most of the building for the team, while Sanders designs and works with the software and programming of the robots.

The team’s robot, Fluttershy, at the qualifier in February.

“That’s definitely my favorite part,” Sanders said. “I love meeting new people, too.”

There are 10,000 teams registered worldwide, with most of them being in the United States.

This year, the team hopes to go as far as possible and earn one of the 11 spots in the Missouri Championship.

Sanders and Kersulis are both incredibly passionate about what they do and see it as a way to always keep improving.

“If you’re not building, you’re not learning,” Sanders said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


The Republic-Times has been Monroe County's hometown newspaper since 1890. Serving Columbia, Waterloo, Valmeyer, Hecker and every town in between, we strive to provide the news that matters most to you in the timeliest manner possible. For more information on subscribing to the Republic-Times, call 939-3814 or visit the "Subscribe" page on this website.
HTC web