March 11, 2019

Having landed on another plant, the team must deploy their robot to load and move cargo when a sudden, massive sandstorm blocks all visibility.

This is part of the premise of 2019 Destination: Deep Space, the national FIRST Robotics Competition (For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology). Reno-area team FYRE Robotics, or First Young Robotics Engineers, received the robotics-game challenge on Jan. 5 and met the deadline to have their robot “bagged and tagged” by Feb. 19. They are ready for a regional competition March 22-23 at the University of California, Davis, one of several FIRST competitions happening around the world in March and April.

Over a four-week period, the Makerspace in the University of Nevada, Reno Innevation Center-Powered By Switch was home-base to the 15 members of FYRE Robotics, ages 13 to 18, as they designed and built their robot. Their project then moved to The Reno Generator, a local art and maker space with an open area in which the FYRE team conducted tests and finished building.

“It really changes a kid’s life, and it has nothing to do with the robot the kids build or whether or not it works,” Kerry Thompson, primary organizer of and mentor to FYRE Robotics, said of the annual competition. “It doesn’t matter if they can drill a hole straight or screw a screw in straight. It has to do with what they learn and what they can accomplish.”

Build sessions typically total 40 hours a week, a significant commitment for the students and their mentors.

“Through the build season, the FYRE students file in at 5 p.m.,” said Crystal Harvey, assistant director of the Innevation Center. “They bring the Makerspace to life in the evenings and our members that work late in the Makerspace comment on the exceptional energy and work ethic of the FYRE team. The Makerspace is being used exactly as it was intended, to bring ideas to life, and the FYRE Robotics mentors are able to bring this resource to the K-12 students who are passionate about STEM, hands-on building and innovative design.”

“It’s essentially another full time job for me during build season,” said Thompson, who has been a FIRST robotics mentor for 10 years, including five years with FYRE Robotics since she moved to Reno from Florida. “I do it because of what it can do for the kids and how it changes them and to see what they can do afterwards with their lives. It’s super cool.”

Aside from the challenge of designing and building a robot for the game, the students help find financial support and mentors. FYRE Robotics generated a budget of $20,000 which means they can go to one competition in 2019. They were one of four Northern Nevada teams to receive support through Tesla’s initiative for STEM education and several of FYRE’s six mentors this season are Tesla employees.

Thompson says the average FIRST Robotics Competition team has 40 students and one team has 120. Bigger teams are better prepared to develop skill-focused subgroups and to modify their robot at the challenge.

FYRE Robotics is on the small side, with 15 students from a number of local schools. But this means each team member can be part of every aspect of the design and build process. One of the rewards is the sense of accomplishment shared across the team, and nearly all of the team members return to FYRE Robotics year after year.

This year, in addition to support from the Innevation Center, The Generator and Tesla, FYRE received support received support from the Davidson Academy, Arche Precision, ERC, Click Bond, Wayne’s Automotive, GroupGets, Sierra Nevada Corp, Barnes & Nobel, EDAWN, Lux Dynamics, Bavarian Auto Haus, Arrow Electronics, Electronics Evolution Technology, Nevada Industry Excellence, WetLAB, Horiba, Fitness for Ten, BreadWare, Northern Nevada Allergy Clinic and Kumon.

The Innevation Center and its well-equipped Makerspace are key elements of the University’s Innovation Ecosystem which is helping stimulate ideation, invention and entrepreneurialism in Nevada. For more information, visit For more information about FYRE Robotics, visit their Facebook page, @FYRErobotics.


January 23, 2015

“Business Matters” / Renegade Radio Interview  – 12:30pm – 103.3 FM, FOX 99.1 FM, and online


January 19, 2015
RENO, NV – Building a robot is not an easy task. But some local high school students think they are up to the challenge.

They are the FIRST Young Robotic Engineers, or FYRE Team, the only FIRST Robotics Competition team in northern Nevada. The group is made up of kids ranging in ages from 13 to 17, and until about two weeks ago most of them were strangers.

“Most of the people back here I didn’t know from the first week or two,” Connor Novak, a FYRE team member said. “But we’re already great friends because we’ve been put through so much,”

The kids, who all have different backgrounds and interests, have come together for one goal – to build a robot that can compete at the FRC Regionals in Las Vegas. They want to win, but for Kerry Thompson, one of the coaches for the FYRE team, watching the kids grow and work together is the best part of the competition.

“It’s more than building a robot,” Thompson said. “Building the robot is obviously the focus. But in the middle of all that you’ve got 16 kids who didn’t really know each other before hand and they’re now spending like 20 hours a week with each other in an intensive, stressful environment. We have some very shy kids on this team and just over two weeks they are starting to come out of their shell and voice their opinions.”

The kids have six weeks to design and build the robot which means almost all of their free time is spent together making everything work.

“This team means everything to me,” Alex Selip, a FYRE team member said. “I’m spending more time with these people in the next six weeks than I am with my own family. ”

Building a robot is the goal, but the students are learning valuable life lessons it takes many people years to learn.

“You’re training kids from an early age in not only programming, electrical and mechanical,” Novak said. “But you’re also training them in how to work together as a team, how to solve problems and think of things spatially.”

“It teaches teens all about technology and engineering,” Selip added. “They get a lot of job skill a lot of life skills. They learn how to manage money, how to manage time.”

This goal is not without it’s challenges. From designing the robot to raising the fund to build it, the kids are learning what it takes to make a goal a reality. The main road block for the team is raising enough money to compete. The entire competition season costs about $20,000. That includes the cost of the robot, registration for the competitions, and travel and lodging cost for the team. Thompson says reaching the goal is important because she wants to keep the team free for every kid involved.

“It’s my belief and FIRST’s believe that no kid should not be able to do this,” Thompson said. “So any kid that wants to be on this particular FRC team can. It doesn’t cost the family anything. We fund raise everything or get donations from the community to support the team.

But the team is only half way to their goal.

“Unfortunately right now any money that we’re getting in is going to travel costs so if we don’t reach this goal, we may not have the robot that does what we really want it to do and what it needs to do,” Thompson said.

Right now, the team is relying on scrap parts donated from local business to build their robot. They have until March to meet their fundraising goal. That’s when they will be heading to Vegas to compete in the FRC Regionals. And competing will give them more than just the chance to win.

“We can show people that we know what we’re doing,” Selip said. “There are a lot of scholarship opportunities, a lot of job opportunities. So we get a lot of opportunities that other people don’t get because they’re not in this program.”

But no matter what, the students are learning skills that will set them up for future success especially as Nevada makes its name in the technology sector.

“It’s going to be a much bigger part of the community in the coming years and we need young people who are interested in that and good in that to keep Reno growing,” Novak said.


January 17, 2017

Our head coach Kerry Thompson gave a speech at Tahoe Silicon Mountain about robotics teams in November. It’s an informative talk, and it covers the many pros of having a robotics team in your community. It was initially streamed live, and the audio has some problems, so sound doesn’t come on until 24:10. It’s quite an inspirational talk. You can watch it here: