Blue Water Area Robotics Center officially opens in Port Huron - P.J. Wallbank Springs, Inc.
Robotics practice space unveiled
October 10, 2019
New robotics practice space unveiled in St. Clair County
October 24, 2019

The new Blue Water Area Robotics Center in Port Huron, home to the Blue Water Area Robotics Alliance, is now officially open.

The grand opening and name reveal for the space took place Oct. 8. The name was voted by all FIRST Robotics teams that are part of the alliance.

The new facility was made possible by Chris Wallbank, of P.J. Wallbank Springs Inc., who donated space in one of his warehouses in Port Huron, and the St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance, which helped raise the $25,000 necessary to purchase the field perimeter.

During the grand opening event, there were many stations set up to display and explain what FIRST Robotics is about. Each team had a pit set up along the practice field, and some robots displayed what they can do, Algonac coach Sebastien Cournoyer said.

A few hundred people attended the event throughout the day. The event included a presentation by U.S. Congressman Paul Mitchell, who represents Michigan’s 10th Congressional District. Mitchell presented BWARA and Wallbank with a certificate.

“He was able to tour the facility and drive the team’s robot on the new field,” Algonac coach Nicole Emery said.

Having a full-size practice field is a big deal for the high school robotics competition teams in St. Clair County, Cournoyer said.

“This gives the teams the ability to practice and drive the robot before the competition,” he said. “It allows the drive team to calibrate the manipulators and also allows the team to spend time practicing their strategies. Moreover, it will allow the team to be ready for competition by allowing them to interact with each other and practice on a real field before the competition.”

“The field will be used to practice with the robots, but also as a collaboration center for all of the robotics members in St. Clair County to come together to discuss programming, design, marketing, mechanical and business needs to help their programs grow,” Emery added.

Cournoyer said the space is particularly needed for the Algonac robotics club, because the robotics lab in Algonac consists of a few classrooms and has posed a challenge to practice driving before the competition.

“We used to drive to Kettering University or Romeo to practice on a full-size field,” he said. “Now we can load up the trailer and go straight to Port Huron, quickly set up what we need and start driving. We have access to the robotics center at any given day and time and don’t have to worry about trying to fit our practice time in somebody else’s schedule.”

The center will also allow the St. Clair County teams to share expensive resources and collaborate on a new level.

“High school competitive robotics is the only sport where every student can turn professional if they choose to,” Cournoyer said. “It is a sport of the mind that allows everyone to get in the game.”

Some students focus on strategy and planning while others focus on mechanical building and/or electrical wiring. Some focus on programming and others focus on the business/marketing side of the team.

“There is a place for everyone, and we would encourage everyone to contact your local high school team for more information on the program,” Cournoyer said.

The alliance includes Metal and Soul from Capac Community Schools, Mecanum Knights from Port Huron and Port Huron Northern high schools, The Blue Devils from Richmond Community Schools, The Robosapiens from Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School, Jacked Up Jackets from Memphis Community Schools, Vi-Bots from Marysville High School, Flurb from St. Clair High School, Yale JiggaWattz from Yale High School and Full Metal Muskrats from Algonac Community Schools.

The robotics teams are currently looking for coaches and mentors. No experience is necessary, as coaches will provide training on how to mentor the students.

“Potential candidates will be able to share their lifelong career learnings with the students and teach them skills that they could use within the team,” Cournoyer said. “We are looking for skills such as marketing and business professionals, electricians, CNC operators, machinists, hobbyists, CAD designers, training professionals, engineers, computer programming/IT (and) project management.”

Those interested can contact their local teams.

The teams are also looking for a few construction companies, as well as carpenters or handymen who could spend a day or two at the Blue Water Area Robotics Center in January.

“Once the game is revealed, we will have to build our game elements for the upcoming season and our goal is to have this done within the first half of January so the team can get going on the field right away,” Cournoyer said.

Those interested can call Cournoyer at 586-770-9386.

The Blue Water Area Robotics Center is located at 2005 Petit St. in Port Huron. For more information about BWARA, visit bwara.org.

Emily Pauling is a staff writer for The Voice. She can be contacted at 586-273-6200 or epauling@medianewsgroup.com.