Posted by Matt Register

We had a great conversation with Michael Horwath, teacher, and Henry Tomez, 11th grade student, about the First Robotics program that teaches students how to design, manufacture, program, and operate robots.

Please excuse any typos, this is a hasty transcript.

Matt Register: Hey Guys, welcome back the show, Texas Business Radio. We are at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio at the South Central Texas Manufacturing Trade Show and Conference brought to you by the San Antonio Manufacturers Association. We’re in the corporate finance associates broadcast booth, booth 326. We get a chance swing by and see us. There is a whole lot going on over here. Manufacturing is alive and well in Texas. And this show is certainly proof of that. I don’t know if you guys ever watch a show called Robot Wars. I know my young boys can’t get enough of it. We have a little robot war going on here at the show. Very fascinating topic and I got a couple of really smart guys here to tell you all about it. We have Michael Horwath.

Micheal Horwath: Horwath.

Matt Register: Horwath and Henry Tomez here with First Robotics. First Robotics, tell me a little bit about it. Because it’s a… it is a club that all of these schools are involved in. Right? To compete against each other. Tell me about First Robotics.

Micheal Horwath: It’s a… it’s a competition based program that was started actually by Dean Kamen.

Matt Register: OK.

Micheal Horwath: The famous for inventing the Segway.

Matt Register: Sure.

Micheal Horwath: It’s a worldwide organization. And when we say worldwide I mean truly worldwide.

Matt Register: Sure.

Micheal Horwath: It’s it goes all the way from kindergarten with the first Lego leagues and worked your way up through your first Tech Challenge up until the first robotics competition which is the level we’re on, all the way through high school. It’s very comprehensive, has a whole lot of outreach to it. In fact one of the main functions of it. One of the things that they push is to take STEM and the related fields and engineering. And obviously manufacturing which is a part of that and promote it and to bring people up into it to strengthen that field.

Matt Register: Well and that’s that’s quite remarkable. You guys have robots here on the floor that you’re operating. You’re competing against each other. That the kids have designed, built, programmed, manufactured and operate. Correct?

Micheal Horwath: Correct.

Henry Tomez: Correct.

Matt Register: So, so these guys are getting a pretty wide range and it starts… now you guys are at the high school level at the high level but it starts with young kids in the kindergarten and very, very young kids. Tell me a little bit about the four levels because I know you guys are at the top level but there are more. Right?

Micheal Horwath: Yes. The FLL Junior, which is the first legal, first Lego League junior uses the NXT kits the robots.

Matt Register: Using Legos, right?

Micheal Horwath: Yes. Correct. And it’s more than just the robot. It’s a they have to do projects that relate to different aspects of things and they make sure that the students work on it. There are goodness, thousands and thousands of parents out there. It’s a very wide spread.

Henry Tomez: Going up to around eight thousand, maybe nine.

Matt Register: Oh wow.

Henry Tomez: Every year every year is more and more teams adding on.

Matt Register: Well that’s wonderful. Now you are with South San Antonio High School as a student, you’re an eleventh grader. How long have you been doing this?

Henry Tomez: Since freshman year.

Matt Register: Oh, wow. So you, you have really got to be involved in all aspects of this right.

Henry Tomze: Yes.

Matt Register: So what is your plan as you move into college. I mean the end goal of this is you want to do this for for a living. Or is this something that is just the fun that you want to do in High School.

Henry Tomez: It’s part of it fun. I love to work with my hands. I love to work with tools. Think about going into welding as a career.

Matt Register: OK, yeah wonderful So you’ve got to got to get your hands on some welding during this process. All right wonderful. So, tell me a little bit about how these clubs get started because there’s a lot of them. But there needs to be a whole lot more. Right?

Micheal Horwath: Oh totally agree on that. The way to really start it is to find someone who’s a little crazy and loves to spend their free time.

Matt Register: To tinker.

Micheal Horwath: Exactly. If you’re like me you always have grease under your fingers.

Matt Register: Sure.

Micheal Horwath: Good place to start. Just get in contact with First. And they actually have people who full time jobs, what they do is make sure that you understand what it takes and put you in contact with folks. For our level, the biggest thing that you have to do is you have to have community involved.

Matt Register: OK.

Micheal Horwath: If this is the kind of thing, it’s not an inexpensive sport.

Matt Register: Sure.

Micheal Horwath: There’s a certain level of budget that we have to have. And as a part of that is sponsorship. Sponsorship is a big deal.

Matt Register: Now sponsorship, we were talking during the break. Can look like several different things. Right? It could look like open your checkbook and write checks. They can also look like, if you are the owner of a manufacturing company that happens to have equipment or it could look like that as well or raw materials or all kinds of things, right?

Micheal Horwath: Yeah. And people.

Matt Register: OK.

Micheal Horwath: It a… mentors are the backbone of the institution, it is all volunteer. There’s not a paycheck from First to do this obviously.

Matt Register: Sure.

Micheal Horwath: However, the thing that we find very valuable is the interaction with the different companies and the mentors. If we have a machinist come in and an engineer that’s a mechanical and then we get someone who’s a programmer from a programming area that can come in and directly help out. That’s a huge benefit because that’s directly passing their knowledge to the people in the future who may be coming back around. And the flip side to that is is that it gets the company involved in the community and the level out and spreads the word because personal interaction to interaction is invaluable. And nowadays with the Internet and the way everyone it immediately goes to their phone, finding institutions where you actually put people with people is invaluable.

Matt Register: Nope, no doubt. And so guys here’s why we’re asking you to do First Robotics has teams in a lot of different areas. We were all over the state. If there is a first robotics team associated with a high school or an elementary school even. In your area, I want you to give them a call. I want you to find them give me a call. Open your checkbooks and write a check. Or if you happen to be in a position that you can help with expertise, with raw materials, with some tooling. So if you have a manufacturing company. Help these guys out. These are teaching kids STEM fields, right? There getting them involved. It’s, it’s the future of manufacturing is in robotics and it’s something that these kids need to get interested in and interested in early. So what’s next year or so. So the big competition is when for you guys?

Micheal Horwath: OK. We just finished the world championship a couple of weeks ago.

Matt Register: OK.

Micheal Horwath: So what we’re doing is we don’t believe in an off season.

Matt Register: I gotcha.

Micheal Horwath: We don’t believe in the off season but what we’re doing is we’re preparing for the off season events. So I guess the next big one is…

Henry Tomez: For us is Houston.

Micheal Horwath: Houston.

Henry Tomez: TRI.

Micheal Horwath: TRI. Yeah we’re going to the Texas Robotics Invitational out in Houston.

Matt Register: OK. When is that?

Micheal Horwath: That one will be the end of July and end of June early July.

Matt Register: Okay, wonderful.

Micheal Horwath: And all of the First Robotic stuff is open to the public. So when.

Henry Tomez: It’s free to enter anybody could come and watch it.

Micheal Horwath: Yeah and you can even come into the pits where everyone’s working on their robots. And these are huge things. The Alamo regional was over at the Henry B GONZALES.

Matt Register: OK.

Micheal Horwath: There were 48 teams there. Or was it 48 or at least 48.

Henry Tomez: yeah, 48.

Micheal Horwath: And then probably seven thousand people around the whole place checking everything out. And then the world championships which were split last year. I don’t know the new numbers but last year there’s 40000 people watching the final matches in the Edward Jones Dome last year.

Matt Register: Well, why not. It’s fun stuff and it’s, it’s a whole lot of fun to watch.

Micheal Horwath: And of course going back to why you want to be involved as a business. Well you get your name on the back of our shirts, just like NASCAR. You know, the Mountain Dew across the front of your truck or put your engineering firm, your manufacturing firm on our shirts, on our robots, on our banners, on our Web sites and you know.

Matt Register: And more importantly it’s the right thing to do. Right? To who much is given, much is expected. And these guys that have done well in business. Time to get back to some kids that are trying to learn how to get in the business themselves and learn a skill in something that’s going to come in handy.

Micheal Horwath: And so these young folks, they’re the cream of the crop. They’re the ones you want coming into your business.

Matt Register: Well, I’ll tell you what.

Micheal Horwath: Their motivated, their discipline. They, they know how to do a project under pressure. They’re on top of their game. They’re the ones you want to grab quick.

Matt Register: Well, guys if you’re if you can make it down here to the South Central Texas Manufacturer Trade Show and Conference. They have a robotics area in the corner. You’re going to see some really smart kids out there operating robots that they designed, built, programmed and operate. It is pretty fun to watch. We’re talking to Michael Horwath from Central Catholic High School in San Antonio and Henry Tomze, who’s 11th grader at South San Antonio High School. Thank you very much for joining us.

Micheal Horwath: Thank you for having us.

Matt Register: Hey guys, don’t forget there’s three ways to get in touch with us go to the Web site, you can give us a call, our 24 hour answer line 844-814-8144. Leave us a message there, we’re happy to get the experts on here to answer it. And we monitor #TBR on Twitter and we’ll get the experts on here to answer. We got to go pay a couple of bills. We’re going to be right back. Here from the San Antonio Manufacturers Association, South Central Texas Manufacturing Trade Show and Conference. That’s a mouthful. We will be back.

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About the Author
Matt Register

Matt Register

In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.

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