By Ken Rayment
What do a crawling pine-beetle robot, flipping robot, climate, science, math and technology all have in common? They were all brought together by students from grades 4 through 12 this past Saturday at the Thompson Robotics EXPO held at Thompson Valley High School.
The primary event, the final Colorado FIRST LEGO League qualifier, included students from across the state. Fifty-two teams aged 9 to 14 competed using robots made from LEGO bricks designed and programmed over an eight-week period. The competition is played on a four-foot by eight-foot tournament field with as many missions as possible out of seventeen completed in a two-and-a-half minute time period.
Tournament director Liz Rayment commented, “This second year of the Thompson FLL Qualifier was 50 percent larger than last year’s tournament with teams from Aurora, Berthoud, Centennial, Estes Park, Ft. Collins, Littleton, Longmont, Loveland, Seibert, Timnath and Windsor.” She went on to add, “The Director’s Award winner, TANK from Ft. Collins, is a mature team with a unique solution to our Climate Connections challenge this season. The team had a wonderfully clear project presentation, and fabulous pre-planning during the teamwork exercise.
Berthoud fielded three teams at the tournament: the Ivy Stockwell Ivy Troopers, the Berthoud Elementary Olympians and the Turner Middle School Team A. Team A ranked high enough to advance to the Regional Championship on Dec. 13 at the University of Denver.
A second event hosted five teams aged 13 to 18 from across the state in a new VEX robotics format. Teams formed alliances and competed together against another alliance to stack blocks in goals within at 12-foot by 12-foot tournament field. This event also highlighted the Loveland High Robotics club, who will host a week-long summer camp next June for students who have completed fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth grades.
VEX event coordinator Cole Emerson said, “The scrimmage was a huge success for a first of a kind event like this in Colorado. Teams came from Arvada, Berthoud and Loveland. A Berthoud/Loveland alliance won the scrimmage. We see this program as a high quality, cheaper alternative to other high school robotics programs and are excited to be involved in moving it forward in Colorado.” A team from Berthoud High won the VEX competition with their innovative linear slider arm extending design.
As part of the EXPO, three other non-competitive events were held. The crowd was energized by the big FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) robots. Both Thompson Valley and Loveland high schools demonstrated the large competition robots. Stepping down to a mid-sized robot was the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) robots. This program supports a new robotics platform that is being introduced to Colorado. With something for everyone, there was a demonstration for the six to nine age group with the jrFLL exhibit. This program introduces the younger crowd to robotics using the familiar LEGO bricks system.
The mission of these programs is to inspire students through hands on activities and research projects to keep engaged with science, technology, engineering, and math programs. Local companies see the long-term benefits for their future workforce. Local companies that contribute both financially and with volunteer labor to the program include Woodward Governor, GE Energy, Intel, and Stratom. Encouraged by the overwhelming success of the program, the Thompson School District continues to support the program to the benefit of their educational mission.
Teams advancing to the Regional Championship (State) include:
Team Cottonwood Too – Cottonwood Plains Elementary – Fort Collins
Bethke Elementary – Timnath
CSI: Climate Scene Investigators – Ridgeview Classical – Fort Collins
Girl Scouts – Fort Collins
West Middle School – Armadillonators – Littleton
Gecko Lichen – Fort Collins
WanderingZ TANK – Fort Collins
Turner Middle School – Team A – Berthoud
Immanuel Lutheran School Climatrons – Loveland
McGraw Elementary Batteries Not Included – Fort Collins
Garfield Elementary NXT Glaciers – Loveland
West Middle School No Namers – Littleton
St. John Catholic School Eagles 1 – Loveland
Lucile Erwin Middle School Aquanauts - Loveland