Thursday, November 15, 2018
Students To Test Robots in Fast, Furious Competition Today
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Luke Dean, Sam Bingham and Ethan Wilson will see how their robot stacks up against others at today’s tournament.
 
Friday, November 9, 2018
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Luke Dean’s idea of fun and games as a youngster was building circuits—something his Dad taught him.

“I’ve been interested in electrical engineering as long as I can remember,” said the Wood River High School senior. “I bought a soldering iron and taught myself the principles of engineering and then that led to joining the robotics team.”

Dean’s robotic building skills took him to World Competition in Louisville, Ky., last year where he and Ethan Wilson competed against more than 550 of the top robotics high school teams from around the world.

And he hopes to start down the road to Louisville again today when he takes part in the season-opening tournament of Idaho’s VEX Robotics Competition at the Community Campus gymnasium in Hailey.

The tournament, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today—Friday, Nov. 9.

More than 30 teams and more than a hundred participants from school districts across southern Idaho and neighboring states are expected to take part.

And Dean promises it will be tense and exciting as contestants try to amass points by launching balls at target flags on a 12-by-12-foot field. They’ll flip square foot caps and place them on poles with their robots. And they will attempt to park their robots on raised platforms--all within two minutes.

“This year’s robots have to be more versatile than they’ve ever been,” he said.

Dean is teamed with three other boys--Sam Bingham, Ethan Wilson and Griff Connelly. They started the process of designing, building and coding this year’s robot with guidance from Lupton as soon as this year’s requirements were unveiled following last spring’s games.

They will put their robot to the test in the tournament where they will learn its weaknesses and how they need to fine tune it.

“I learned that it’s really best in the long run to spend the time to build things right right from the beginning,” Dean said. “And that sometimes the fastest way of solving a problem might not be the best.”

Today’s VEX competition is sponsored by the Robotics Education and Competition (REC) Foundation. It’s the largest and fastest growing youth robotics program in the world.

 “We’re upgrading to new technology this year and the kids are excited about learning the new programming software, controllers and brain,” said Lupton. “The added power they’ll get from the new motors will take things to a higher level.”

Blaine County School District’s robotics program, known as BC Bots, was the first of its kind in the state of Idaho when it started in 2009. Today it includes high school, middle school students, as well as students from each of the local elementary schools.

Luke Dean and Ethan Wilson took first-place honors at the 2018 Idaho VEX Robotics State Championship last year, along with John Chen and Griffin Connelly. And that enabled the four to compete against more than 550 of the top robotics team from throughout the world.

The sixth- and seventh-grade robotics team at Wood River Middle School became the first team from Wood River ever to advance to their division finals at Louisville last spring. Those students—Kameron Perron, Preston Kendall, Finn Wolfrom, Dylan Benson, Colton Whitesell, Dawson Torres and Hayden Drake--won the Judges Award in a competition of the best of the best 400 Middle Schools from around the globe.

Bingham, whose father works at Power Engineers, grew up building things with Legos. He went to the World Robotics VEX competition in eighth grade.

“It was a big trip for little me,” he said. “It was amazing to see what could be done. And I learned how important it is to stick with things.”

The boys said they have never experienced as much anxiety as they did at the World VEX competition.

“The music is blaring and people are running back and forth fixing things,” Dean said. “It’s like sprinting through an airport from one gate to another, except you’re carrying this big heavy robot instead of a suitcase.”

“VEX competitions are fast and furious,” said Kevin Lupton, the WRHS robotics coach and engineering teacher.

Students learn more than engineering and software development skills, Lupton said. They also learn teamwork, perseverance, communication, collaboration, project management and critical thinking.

Dean said he and his teammates also learned the value of preparation, as they had to take backup parts and lots of extra batteries with them to Louisville. And they had to figure out how to repair their robot without all the things they have at home.

They also learned to delegate jobs.

 “I’m terrible at driving but I can see what’s going the big picture of what’s going on,” Dean said. “Sam, meanwhile, tends to get tunnel vision in the zone but he’s great at driving the robot.”

 

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