‘Bots of Another Color’ introduces robotics to high schoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Bots of Another Color is a new robotics program geared towards neurodiverse high schoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

“Our main goal is to help them get some socializing, get treated like everybody else, so that they can enjoy being part of a group and learn while they’re at it,” said Head Coach J.D. Hoverman. 

Hoverman aspires to help kids going through what he went through at their age. 

“I tried to be part of a lot of things when I was a kid, and even if I was the most knowledgeable kid in the group, nobody listened,” said Hoverman. “I was just kind of a matter of fact, you know, here’s why I think what I think. If there’s a problem, I’m going to focus on the problem. And I have to actually force myself to address things in a not so direct way.” 

One of the goals of Bots of Another Color is to use focus as an advantage while broadening the interests of participants. 

“That ability to focus on something, the ability to come up with solutions that maybe other people didn’t see because their perspective wasn’t quite so narrow or fine or focused,” Hoverman explained. “One of the things we’re trying to do is they have very, very particular interests and they’re really, really good at what they’re interested in. And we’re trying to broaden that, trying to open that up so that they can see other things.”

This also provides an opportunity for kids with similar interests to collaborate. 

“The teamwork aspect of it is probably the best thing,” said participant Daniel Kilner. “And I mean, the deconstructing is fun messing around with tools, seeing how everything works. It’s a fun thing to do.”

There have been challenges with getting the program started. 

“We’re pushing a really big boulder up a really steep hill. We couldn’t order anything until after January 7th because we had to know what we were going to get in our kit because of limited funds, you don’t want to buy something that’s going to come in the kit. So that kind of delayed things,” Hoverman explained.  “We’ve had to simplify our design numerous times because of the delay in getting parts. And when you have less time, you can’t be as complex.”

The participants have been deconstructing old robots to get some of the parts needed. 

“Ordering parts is expensive,” said Kilner. “And taking apart old robots that would normally be decommissioned and cut up into scrap makes for a great, great way to save on money and resources.”

More resources are needed to fabricate the machine. Fitger’s Brewhouse donated $10,000 to help with the cause and will match up to $10,000 in donations. 

“Donating to this organization has a special meaning for me. I have close family members on the spectrum who have been teased and treated poorly their whole life due to their exceptionality,” said CEO of Fitger’s Brewhouse Rod Raymond. “This robotics program provides kids with a safe space to explore their creativity and enhance their tinkering skills. I see these kids engineering the most unique robot and having a ton of fun competing with others.” 

The group hopes to be ready in time for the Northern Lights regional competition at the DECC on March 1. Spectators can watch for free on March 3rd and 4th. The group will also compete in La Crosse on March 25th and 26th. 

“There’s a couple of logistical problems that are getting sorted out, but yeah, we can overcome all these easily provided we have Lady Luck on our side and we do everything right, which we should,” said Kilner. 

Donations can be made through this GoFundMe or sent to the following address:

Bots of Another Color: ASD Robotics Program

℅ JD Hoverman

228 N 2nd Ave E, #1411

Duluth, MN 55805-6000