Meet the Onaway Onabots and their robot

by Angie Asam-Staff Writer

Who may you ask are the Onabots? They are a non-profit organization that meets after school and on weekends to build a competitive robot in six weeks. Officially known as the FRC (FIRST robotics challenge) Rookie Team 5534 the team will be competing in their first robotics challenge. To learn more about FIRST Robotics Competitions visit

On Jan. 3 a group of student from Onaway High School (OHS) along with technology director Barry Fitzpatrick, teacher Scott Steensma and teacher Lewis Robinson, traveled to Boyne City High School for the annual first robotics kickoff, an international kickoff that is simulcast all over the world to more than 3,000 robotics teams anxiously awaiting the new rules and game play for the year’s competition. The Onaway Onabots now have six weeks to build a fully functioning robot for this year’s “Recycle Rush” competition.

How did the Onabots get started? “Earlier this summer at a professional development conference, I was approached by a neighboring district school teacher, Kelly Lapeer.  Lapeer teaches physics, chemistry and robotics for Inland Lakes. Lapeer asked me if I had an interest in robotics and that I should consider starting robotics for OHS.  Lapeer and her team, Delta Force 3537 would mentor us. This is Inland Lakes 5th year competing in FIRST robotics,” said Robinson.

“Lapeer gave me Gail Alpert’s contact information (President of FIRST Michigan) and I registered a team for OHS. Before I went too much further, I contacted Barry Fitzpatrick and asked if he had any interest in helping out, as this would be a tremendous project, but great for our school, students, and community.  Barry jumped on board and is now second lead mentor registered with FRC,” said Robinson.

THE ONAWAY Onabots are proud to introduce Malevolence, their robot they will use to compete in FIRST rookie robotics competitions in Traverse City and Escanaba. (Courtesy Photo)


“Next I went to Mr. Fullerton and we applied for the State of Michigan Rookie Grant through Michigan Electronic Grants System and we were awarded the full amount of $7,500 dollars to cover the cost of the robot kit and some transportation to two district events (Traverse City, and Escanaba).  It is estimated that the first year will cost between 10-12 thousand dollars, as new tools, new equipment, transportation, lodging and training fees will all add up quickly.  I then wrote a second grant and submitted it through FIRST rookie robotics and we were awarded this grant as well.  This grant was for $4,000 dollars this year and $2,000 next year.  The robot kit alone costs $6,000 dollars annually,” said Robinson

With funding secured the Onabots were becoming a reality. “We were very excited knowing that, thanks to these grants, we had the funds to get robotics up and running for the students of OHS. We also were the recipients of another grant written by Barry, Cameron Horn and Ryan Fitzpatrick.  This grant was for a 3D EKOCYCLE cube printer valued at just over $1,000. We were one of 1,500 recipients nationwide to receive a 3D printer! Great job guys!  Lots of exciting stuff happening up at OHS,” said Robinson.

SATURDAY, JAN. 10, the Onabots traveled to Petoskey High School to participate in a rookie quick build chassis session hosted by the Petoskey Paladins, coached by lead mentor Tom Ochs along with the Onabots mentor sponsor team, Delta Force, from Inland Lakes.

“There we learned how to build, wire, program and operate a fully functioning chassis base for our robot. With the game plan set and having no prior knowledge of robotics at our school, the Onabots turned to the best and requested a meeting with Moran Iron Works,” said Robinson.

A small group of students, Fitzpatrick and Robinson met with Tom Moran and Marilyn Kapp Moran. After presenting what they were working on, what first robotics is and showing pictures of the current project, the rest became history.

“Moran Iron Works has been outstanding and extremely supportive of our little robotics program. Over the past four weeks, students have been meeting with engineers, chief metal fabricators, had several trips to and from Moran Iron Works and the school to accomplish our task. The mentors and students of OHS are very appreciative of the support we have received. Tom Moran and Tom Crawford have been outstanding, great mentors, teachers and role models to our students.  We could not have done this without them,” said Robinson.

THE TEAM’S six-week build season ended on Feb. 17. The team will now have a short break until their first district event in Traverse City, March 12-14 and again in Escanaba, March 26-28. The team will be working on some fundraisers, designing a competition T-shirt and designing a pit area to work on the robot at competition.

“This has been a huge learning curve and we are one of several rookie teams in the area,” said Robinson. The Onabots can be followed on Facebook by searching for Onaway Robotics and on Twitter @Onabots_5534.