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Joining Robotics Leads to Lifelong Memories

Nearly three years ago, Lyla Christie experienced an injury to her spinal cord that caused her to be paralyzed from the neck down during surgery to a non-cancerous but aggressive tumor in her neck.

 

Christie now uses an electronic wheelchair that she controls with her mouth. And she isn’t letting her disability get her down. Not for a second.kids with elf ears

 

Last year, when she entered middle school, she was inspired by her older brother to join the robotics team. The team welcomed her with open arms. The team worked to make sure there was a game controller that was legal for Lyla (and all FIRST students) to use to drive the robot.

 

It’s stories like Lyla’s of why Consumers Energy is proud to cheer on robotics teams around the state. We admire their passion and there will be lifelong memories for all involved.

 

Robotics is The Future

 

We may be an energy production and distribution company, but today we want to talk to you about high school robotics competitions. Why?

 

First off, they’re incredibly fun to talk about, and even more fun to attend. But secondly, we value a strong education for Michigan’s students. That’s why we invest in Michigan STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math), such as robotics, to help expose students to opportunities for future careers and areas of passion to explore.

 

Why invest in STEM?

 

As we focus on a clean energy future, we also need to invest in a robust talent pipeline and help ensure prospering economic development in our Michigan communities. This is no small feat. 

 

We recognize there is still work to do, and we need help to accomplish these goals. So, we started looking to the next generation of engineers and scientists for guidance and inspiration. Current students will be the ones to continue our clean energy mission. They will be the ones reimagining the energy infrastructure or designing the latest electric vehicle hitting the streets. They will be the ones growing and inspiring our communities.

  

Robotics isn’t just for coders or future engineers, as there is so much more that goes into the competition than the actual build. Students learn to challenge themselves and each other as they problem solve and work together as a team. After their build is finalized, the team must use business skills to market the product they created.  

 

As you can see, we aren’t just investing in cool robots; we’re investing in future employees, future innovators and the future of Michigan.

 

Our Main STEM Initiative: FIRST in Michigan

 

FIRST in Michigan (known as FiM and part of the international FIRST organization: “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology”) leads the robotics season for high school students that combines the competitive spirit of varsity sports with the knowledge and know-how of a science fair, then takes the whole concept to a completely new level. 

 

Teams get together to design, build, program and market a commercial product, just like in the real world. Throughout the process, they get to sample different STEM fields to discover the one (or ones!) they are most passionate about.first certificate

 

Industry experts mentor teams along the way, which is where we come in. Employees from across the state dedicate hundreds of hours every year volunteering as team mentors and serving as judges on competition days. 

 

FiM is one of our favorite initiatives because it gives our team members the chance to bond with students over their shared passion of robotics and STEM. The heart of the Consumers Energy Foundation is in building these connections while leaving a lifelong impact on younger Michiganders.

 

Currently, FiM programs are in about 30% of Michigan’s school districts. (And any school or community is welcome to join and make their own team!)

 

How do robots relate to energy production and distribution?

 

Over the years, we have invested in robotic technology that allows us to perform more efficiently and keep our workers safe. Here are a few of our favorite robots we use to keep our workers safe and work more efficiently!

 

  • "Spot" the Robot Dog

    “Spot” the robot dog was designed by Boston Dynamics to conduct safety inspections that would be too dangerous for employees to perform without shutting down the system. Spot can enter high-voltage facilities to inspect and collect data straight out of the box and comes with a Software Development Kit to create custom controls, integrate data or program missions. Spot moves as if you are controlling a video game and is like the devices students use to control their FiM robots.

 

  • "Smart Pig" Technology

    We are continuously improving and upgrading our infrastructure to ensure our natural gas service system is in tip-top shape. Across the state, we have been replacing old parts, upgrading regulation facilities and expanding for new business. 

     

    Thanks to “smart pig” technology, we can quickly identify integrity problems in underground pipelines, like gaps in protective wrap, dents or small internal weaknesses in the infrastructure.

 

  • Taking it to the sky

    With 87,097 miles of electrical distribution lines to patrol, we need all the help we can get to keep our eyes on the line. Some team members are trained and certified drone pilots (“UAV” or “unmanned aerial vehicles”). Currently, drones are used as a "flying camera" to patrol miles of distribution lines and inspect our Ludington Pumped Storage facility and reservoir (it's really like a small man-made elevated lake!), wind turbines and storm damage.

     

    Also, just a reminder that drones shouldn’t be flown near or around power lines.

 

  • Next Level SUVs

    At the end of 2021, we debuted two high-tech Ford Edge SUVs equipped with state-of-the-art mobile natural gas leak detection systems. These SUVs are designed to gather and instantly analyze methane, wind, atmospheric and GPS data to find natural gas leaks and calculate their risks. The new vehicles will also assist in storm and natural disaster responses.

 

 

child painting with their mouthSupporting the future of STEM

  

Starting from elementary school all the way through high school and beyond, we want to support students’ passion for STEM. Michigan is home to some amazing talent and outstanding students.

 

It’s our goal to support the next wave of engineers, programmers and innovators in Michigan. Our investments in technology have gotten us this far, but we need a generation primed and ready to carry us further into the future.

 

Join in on the fun of robotics by checking out the FIRST in Michigan programs happening in your school district!