The Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technology is diving deep into competition robotics in its first year as part of the FIRST Robotics Competition.

NEAAAT’s team, known as Robo-Banditos #7715, has received $12,000 in grant funding for 2018-19. That includes a $4,000 Duke Energy grant and a $4,000 grant from Piedmont Natural Gas. The Robo-Banditos also received a grant from the Argosy Foundation.

These awards are given to rookie teams, competing for the first time in a North Carolina FIRST Robotics Competition tournament. FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. 

The team is coached and mentored by NEAAAT instructional coach Shala Spence and Tonya Little, NEAAAT’s executive director of STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.

The NEAAAT Robo-Banditos were the only pre-season rookie team of the 31 teams that competed at the 2018 Rumble in the Roads Off-Season FRC Tournament, held Nov. 3 in Newport News, Va.

Operational costs for a FRC team can range from $20,000 to $45,000. Fundraising and grant funding is usually a necessity for FRC teams to participate in a season’s tournament. The required annual $6,000 registration includes a basic robot kit of parts, annual registration and event participation. Additional costs include robot parts, tools, travel, T-shirts, and other expenses.

The NEAAAT Robo-Banditos Team #7715 is also sponsored by the Elizabeth City State University Department of Technology. The department’s grant funding from NASA, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Golden LEAF Foundation, and the NC Space Grant support robot construction and support costs for the team to attend tournament competitions.

Elizabeth City State University professor Kuldeep Rawat has supported the NEAAAT robotics program since its inception with an award-winning middle grades FIRST LEGO League robotics team.

The NEAAAT team hopes to display its robot at various events in northeastern North Carolina to garner interest. The school would like to partner with local businesses, industries, and community partners.

“For the students, the importance is in the experience of completing a task that requires creative out-of-the-box thinking with a group,” Spence said. “This is part of a skill set colleges, universities and employers look for in a prospect.”

The team is preparing to compete in Wake and Robeson counties in March, and must complete the competition robot by Feb. 19.

NEAAAT Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harris said the team is an example of the school’s innovative approach to education.

“This is an excellent example of what we stand for — innovative, hands-on, authentic learning opportunities that build community while preparing students for high-demand, high-paying jobs,” Harris said. “Coach Spence, Coach Little, and our remarkable students are setting the bar high and I commend them for their undying commitment to excellence.”

Devin Gehricke, an 11th-grader on the Mechanical Engineering team, called being on the robotics team "an absolutely awesome experience.”

“At the off-season competition I made lots of friends and it was extremely entertaining to finally see the robot work after building and adjusting everything," Gehricke said.

Anyone interested in donating to the program can send donations to Northeast Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, PO Box 2889, earmarked for FRC Team #7715.