Routt County 4-H robotic teams rise to the top at State Fair in Pueblo — again
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It was the final run at the 2019 State 4-H Robotics Challenge, and members of Routt County’s robotics team competing in the junior division were looking to bring home the first-place ribbon from the Colorado State Fair for the second year in a row
“When they won it, I just cried,” said Kim Smith, who coaches the Routt County program. “I could not help it. It’s just that emotion because you know how much they want it.”
Smith has overseen the 4-H robotics program with her husband, Jack, since moving to Steamboat Springs in 2017. In that time, the two former engineers, who worked together at Texas Instruments, have helped build a successful program that shined at Sunday’s events in Pueblo.
The Routt County team of Eva Reynolds, Grace George and Kinsley Jacobson topped the field in the junior division, and the team of Faith Hixson, Landry Hixson and Eli Moon placed second in the senior division.
In 2018, Routt County teams brought home blue ribbons in both the junior and senior divisions, but Smith stressed that the goals of the robotics programs are about much more than just winning ribbons.
“This is really great teamwork for kids and great problem solving, because they are working together to figure out how they are going to do it,” Smith said. “All that stuff is really great, and winning — well, that’s just the icing on the cake.”
Smith said it was a chance meeting with 4-H Extension Agent Tami Eggers that led to the creation of the program. The two were visiting while waiting for a community meeting to begin when Smith mentioned that she and her husband were retired engineers. Eggers just happened to be looking for someone who could head up a robotics program in Routt County.
Since its inception, the program has drawn a ton of interest, but participation had to be capped because the program has a limited number of robotic kits. Smith said a big goal for the program is to raise more money, so that there can be more Routt County competition teams.
The robotics program is supported by the local 4-H office, which is constantly seeking grant money to support the program. This year the program got a big boost from the Craig-Scheckman Family Foundation, which donated $3,000 to the program.
“It’s just a remarkable program,” Smith said. “It’s fun to work with these young kids and see the lights come on, and they think, ‘Oh wow, I can do this.’”
At the state competition, teams were faced with the task of designing, building and programing a robot to be used to help fight wildfires. Teams were given a limited amount of time to complete as many of the tasks as possible and rewarded with points.
The teams were challenged to plow a fire control line, clear trees and bushes and remove hazardous chemicals. The robots also had to open a pasture gate, load livestock onto a trailer, place a flag to mark air support, put out fires and deliver hoses to firefighters using Lego Mindstorms EV3 robots. Points were deducted if robots drove into a pond or hit a structure that was on fire.
“We start with the simple and start building up to where we are preparing for the state competition,” Smith said.
The program begins in December and runs through July.
Smith said the program would not be possible without the support of the staff at the Routt County Extension Office and the help of team members’ parents.
“I think when you have a good 4-H staff and really great parents you just can’t lose,” Smith said. “It’s just a great combination, and I think 4-H just builds that up.”
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