Steamboat robotics team headed to state |

Steamboat robotics team headed to state

Members of the state-bound Steamboat robotics team include, from left, Luke Wichelhaus, Layton Morrison, Anneliese Overstreet, Xander Tatar-Brown and Justin Stanko.
Courtesy photo

Practice makes perfect

Steamboat Robotics will present its project and robot game at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 13 in the Steamboat Springs Middle School library. The five-minute informative and entertaining skit will demonstrate the team's innovative product — Green Mail, an automated aeroponic alert system, which scored first place at the regional competition in Aspen a few weeks ago. The presentation, which is free and open to the community, is in advance of the state robotics competition Saturday.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Last month in Aspen, five eighth-graders guided a robot they built and programmed themselves to victory in the “Robot Game,” one of four events in the regional FIRST Lego League competition. The winning team is one of three from the Steamboat Springs Middle School robotics program.

Despite its current success, the robotics team had humble beginnings. Five years ago, Diane Maltby started the program as an after-school club, which did not compete. Even if they had wanted to, they did not have the official gear to be competitive.

“We did it after school, just to learn how,” Maltby said.

The group’s educational zeal, however, made the program progress quickly. The very next year, the club got a competitive table so they could practice for competition, and the year after that, they made it to the state competition.

The Steamboat team will compete at state again in Denver on Saturday. If they do well there, they will go on to worlds and compete at the international level.

“You have to do well in all four categories to even be considered for state,” Maltby said.

The categories for the competition are the robot game, robot design, project presentation and core values. While the game and design components had to do with their first-place robot, team members had to work on entirely separate challenges for the other two categories.

For the project presentation challenge, they had to improve upon an existing invention or invent something themselves. The Steamboat robotics team opted to improve upon an existing product: an aeroponic tower.

Aeroponic towers are used to grow plants using water, nutrients and a soil-less growing medium. One of the teachers at the school has a tower, and the team approached her to ask her what about the tower gives her the most trouble. She responded by saying she dislikes how often she has to check the water and pH levels.

To solve this problem, the team used Arduino programming to set up a sensor that sends an email to the owner of the tower whenever the water and pH levels are too high or too low. The students currently have a working prototype of the system.

Eventually, they created a working product for state, but they aren’t stopping at competition. They are also reaching out to the company that manufactures the towers to see if they’d be interested in incorporating the team’s invention into the product.

To get to state, however, requires funding. The team currently has a GoFundMe page to help with expenses. They are planning on using the money raised to buy industrial-strength probes for their project and cover registration costs.

Zoe Walsh is an intern at the Steamboat Pilot & Today this semester through the Steamboat Springs High School internship program.

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