When industrial-sized robots are waging battle, it’s wise to steer clear. Though AEP officially remains on the sidelines, through its FIRST Robotics grant program, our company is smack in the middle of intense, warring competitors.

No, this isn’t BattleBots like you see on TV. But according to Kim Bothager, a business integration analyst for AEP whose twin daughters participate on the team at Thomas Worthington High School, the annual competitions are fierce and a sight to see.

“There’s professional wrestling-like enthusiasm; sports-type announcing of plays and highlights during the matches; a Comic Con type atmosphere with kids dressed up as mascots; a Disney-like trading of buttons between teams; NASCAR-type ‘pits’ for repairing the robots; lights and loud music like a rock concert; the cheering and excitement of the Olympics and an awards presentation like the Oscars,” Bothager said. “It’s absolutely exhausting and wonderful and like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

The robotics team at Worthington Kilbourne High School and Thomas Worthington (aka the “WorBots”) participated in the Miami Valley Regional March 15-18 and are eying several more in the coming weeks.

Long before the big event though, there’s hours and hours of planning, testing, reviewing, retesting … and fundraising. The robots often cost $5,000 to $7,000, and entry fees and other expenses add up to about $20,000 more. It’s a hefty price tag for kids to pay. That’s where AEP and other donors step in.

Many of AEP’s community giving efforts encourage students to explore STEM careers through the science, math and technology education programs that help kids develop their skills. FIRST programs – which exist in over 100 countries around the world – are an ideal match. They introduce Pre-K through 12-grade students to engineering and coding in an engaging, inclusive and creative afterschool or in-class setting. Together, the students work to solve an annual robotics challenge.

AEP supports these contests at a variety of academic levels. This year in Ohio alone, that support has included funding for 28 teams (675 students) across the state.

The WorBots at Work

The robotics team at Worthington Kilbourne High School and Thomas Worthington (aka the “WorBots”) is just one of those 28 Ohio teams. For the 30+ members of the group, it’s not all fun and games – it’s serious business, too. The program is year-round; however, their laser-like focus intensifies the moment the annual theme is announced the first Saturday in January. This year it’s having the robot pick up traffic cones and cubes and getting the mechanisms in place to charge an electrical grid; last year it was shooting baskets and climbing monkey bars.

The robotics program is year-round; however, the team’s laser-like focus intensifies the moment the annual theme is announced the first Saturday in January.

The next two months are a frenzy of activity preparing for the big event. Though one part of the competition is fought on the field, another is hotly contested in the realm of communications. Each team includes a marketing group, and another trophy – the prestigious Impact Award – goes to the team who best made a mark on their community and spread the importance of STEM programs in schools. There are additional awards for sustainability, entrepreneurship, creativity, team spirit and more. And the team is passionate about community outreach, offering demonstrations at elementary schools and local events and organizing charity drives.

Braylee Hsu, a 16-year-old senior at Thomas Worthington, is the president of business operations for the WorBots. She says the team’s motto is “Engage, Inspire, Impact.” (Watch the reveal of their 2023 robot, “Eclipse.”)

“Yes, we’re good at robots. But another part of our excellence is how our students are contributing to the local community,” she said.

The WorBots robot in 2023 is named “Eclipse” because the claw it uses to pick up objects looks like an e-clip.

There’s another method to the madness: The tasks the robots complete are not dissimilar from those performed at industrial factories, warehouses and other businesses. There’s a real-world application that’s beneficial for both the students and the companies that are involved.

“There’s a big emphasis on engineering. Many of the lessons you can learn in the classroom, but by directly working on the challenges you can pick up a lot more by doing,” Hsu said. “The competition also helps students build leadership skills you might not otherwise see. It’s highly attractive to employers and the opportunity is full of potential for the students, too.”

AEP is happy to support local robotics programs and Hsu said the feeling is mutual.

“We’re very grateful and honored. AEP has been a consistent sponsor and that support is very impactful to sustain what we do,” she said. “It also allows us to connect with a part of our local community that you don’t normally see firsthand. It brings us all together.”

Watch the Action!

Thomas Worthington’s robotics team has been in existence since 2012 – that’s more than a decade of fundraising raffles, candy sales and small business solicitations – and the school found particular success in 2018 and 2019 when they won the Buckeye Regional. The WorBots participated in the Miami Valley Regional March 15-18 and are eying several more in the coming weeks:

  • Buckeye Regional (Cleveland): March 29-April 1
  • Greater Pittsburgh Regional:  April 5-8

And if the team qualifies …

  • World Championships (Houston, Texas): April 19-22
  • State Championships (Columbus, Ohio): May 6

You can watch all the action live on Twitch or afterward on The Blue Alliance.

About FIRST Robotics Grants

AEP supports teams within our 10-state service area with grants ranging from $250 to $6,000 depending on the robotics program level. Applications are typically available beginning October 1 with a deadline in late January, and grants are announced by mid-March. For more information, email community@aep.com.

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