Special Olympics Michigan Unified Robotics

This spring Frog Force is excited to introduce Unified Robotics to Michigan. In August 2020, Novi High School was recognized by Special Olympics North America as a National Banner Unified Champion School for its Unified Sports program. We quickly realized that Unified Robotics would be a great addition to our school’s Unified Sports program and a natural extension of our team’s goal to bring FIRST robotics to all students. We reached out to our partners on The Compass Alliance, FRC 4911, CyberKnights from Washington for more information. After volunteering for the Special Olympics Washington Unified Robotics Championship and seeing firsthand how Unified Robotics uses robots to bring together students of all learning levels, we knew we needed to bring the program to Michigan. We approached Special Olympics Michigan to make it a reality and are grateful for their continuing support and especially for sponsoring the first annual Michigan Unified Robotics tournament. We would like to thank the Novi Education Foundation (NEF) for awarding us with a $1500 classroom grant to purchase equipment for the Novi High School teams. We also received the FIRST Equity and Access grant providing funding to create a league with 10 additional teams.

Unified Robotics exposes engineering, programming, and robotics to students with learning disabilities while continually emphasizing inclusion and awareness in STEM. While our goal is to teach STEM skills and provide unique opportunities to gain experience, more importantly we work to create meaningful relationships and communicate effectively with all our peers. We understand you can’t simply “reach out” and learn about someone else’s life. It takes deep conversation, face-to-face interactions, and a genuine understanding of the ways in which we perceive the world and the world perceive us. This is what we believe truly helps to break down barriers and further bolster inclusivity.

Unified Robotics pairs students with intellectual disabilities, “athletes” with students from FRC robotics teams, “peers”, in small teams. Each team, ranging from two (2) to six (6) members, designs, builds, and programs their own robot using a LEGO robotics kits. At the end of the build season, the teams compete in a modified sumo-robot style tournament where the robots battle head-to-head and attempt to knock one another off the playing field.

We look forward to building on Novi High School’s designation as a National Banner Unified Champion school. We are forming a league from neighboring high school FRC teams to compete alongside us. This year in 2021, following the model developed by Special Olympics Washington, we’ll be implementing a virtual Unified Robotics season. While it may look a little different, the goals of building robots and relationships are the same. Our season starts March 13th with a Kickoff event featuring a game reveal and workshops in build, programming and competition simulation. After an 8 week build season, the teams will compete in the first annual Michigan Unified Robotics tournament on May 22nd. Whether in person or streamed live, we know it will be a fun and exciting way to showcase all that the teams have accomplished. We look forward to an exciting year with this new project!

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