It’s now been seven months since our initial announcement of the Macomb County Robotics Collaboration and Innovation Center and a lot of progress has been made. In fact, next week, an advisory team meeting will be held with more than 60 businesses to discuss initiatives and funding for the center. For more information on that meeting, click here. Interested individuals may also register to attend. And for further updates on the project, read the below article, which was recently featured in the new edition of Momentum Magazine. The piece, written by Jane Peterson, includes background on why the center is an important tool for developing local STEM talent.
Building blocks: Robotics center to inspire young people to consider careers in tech industries
It’s no secret that Macomb County has made a very concerted effort to diversify its economy. Today, there are many sectors that are particularly strong, including aerospace, defense, manufacturing and automotive. With the Robotics Collaboration and Innovation Center, the county is seeking to add another piece of the pie.
According to Kim Rustem, senior consultant at Public Sector Consultants (PSC), stakeholders engaged in the process, including those from industry, local government, FIRST® Robotics teams, K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions, determined that the center will focus on the development of a talent pipeline through support for:
- FIRST® Robotics teams
- Robotics in K-12 education
- Postsecondary robotics education and training
- Robotics entrepreneurism
The center will provide engineering entrepreneurs with access to the tools, programs and experts in an open, collaborative environment. It will feature a tooling and fabrication shop, individual workstations, co-shared work spaces, computers and software in addition to engineering and computer science assistance, business development support and access to mentors for top automotive, defense, manufacturing and technology firms. It will be focused on increasing awareness and opportunity within the robotics field, particularly for young people.
“This is going to be a major opportunity to integrate industry and education,” said Luke Bonner, CEO of the Bonner Advisory Group. His business assisted with the strategy and feasibility phases of the project. Some schools in Macomb County already have active FIRST® Robotics programs in place. FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), is an intensive afterschool activity where students in grades 9-12 spend weeks building robots designed to perform specific tasks. Then they put their robot to the test against other schools at popular FIRST® Robotics Competitions. In April, more than 17,000 students ages 6-18 from around the world traveled to Detroit, putting their innovation skills to the test at the annual FIRST Championship Presented by Qualcomm Incorporated, held at the Cobo Center and Ford Field. The four-day Detroit event was attended by more than 43,000 people, including more than 700 robotics teams from 37 countries that competed and exhibited in FIRST programs:
- FIRST®LEGO® League for ages 9-16
- FIRST Tech Challenge, ages 12 to 18
- FIRST Robotics Competition, ages 14 to 18
In addition, 60 teams participated in the FIRST® LEGO® League Jr. World Festival Expo, for students in grades K-4, ages 6 to 9. This year, Macomb County’s Utica ThunderChickens took first place in the FIRST® World Championship.
Macomb County wants to build on this success and involve more students. Vicky Rad, director of Macomb County Planning and Development, said out of the 28 high schools in Macomb County, there are 16 established FIRST® Robotics teams and four new high school rookie teams. The Robotics Collaboration and Innovation Center seeks to increase this number and provide additional opportunities for students by providing practice fields and space for participants to build their competition robots and work alongside with mentors from business and industry.
“We’re building a talent pipeline, especially those engaged in these activities, and showing them a career pathway. The students who participate in FIRST receive hands-on skills that make them truly marketable for the next generation of high-tech careers we have available here in Macomb County,” said Rad.
Macomb County, the City of Sterling Heights, Macomb Intermediate School District and Macomb Community College entered into a partnership, established a nonprofit organization and hired Public Sector Consultants and Miller Canfield as consultants to help operationalize the center. Sterling Heights officials offered space at the Velocity Collaboration Center for the first year as an in-kind donation, said Bonner, who also serves as a senior economic development advisor for the city. Operating costs are projected to be $300,000 per year. PSC and Miller Canfield have formulated a business plan and hosted an advisory team meeting. At this meeting, Rustem said participants have been sharing their vision and priorities for the center and learning about the enthusiasm students have for robotics during break-out sessions. The project is at the point now where it is ready to bring in stakeholders, additional board members and mentors, said Bonner. The nonprofit is also looking for companies to offer internships. The Robotics Collaboration and Innovation Center is slated for an Oct. 1 opening.