Steamboat robotics teams celebrate success |

Steamboat robotics teams celebrate success

Makena James, Nate Montgomery, Nolan Laughlin and Primo Famiglietti practice launching their robot from its base in preparation for the 2018 First Lego League Championship qualifiers. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Meeting for the first time since December, two robotics teams from Steamboat Springs Middle School proudly showed off their new trophies.

Before the holiday break, they went to qualifying events in Denver and Grand Junction, bringing home an award for overall performance and a judge’s choice award, as well as several second-place awards. Both teams finished in the top tier among competitors.

More than 300 teams of fourth through eighth graders from Colorado competed in 12 First Lego League tournaments across the state. Just one gets picked to go to the world championship, held this year in Houston.

“We haven’t quite made it to worlds, yet,” said robotics teacher Diane Maltby. “But, we will eventually.”

The theme for the 2018 competition was “Into Orbit,” with everything related to life in space.

Meeting once or twice per week after school, members of the robotics teams spent the first half of the school year preparing — building each Lego-kit “mission” for the robots on a large board in the middle of the room. They’d designed and built their unique robots and attachments and practiced over and over. They refined their designs and tweaked programs.

On competition day, they’d have just two and a half minutes to guide their robots into completing as many missions as possible. Robots were tasked to lift, stack, pull, take a core sample and print a 3-D brick and perform a variety of other interstellar errands.

“I wish this had been around when I was younger,” said parent and team coach Amanda Montgomery of the after-school club.

A programmer herself, Montgomery said she enjoys her kids’ robotics projects so much.

“I have a hard time not taking them over,” Montgomery said.

But, Montgomery said her favorite part of going to the competition is standing back as they go into the big day.

“It’s their chance to step up and show everything they’ve worked on without anyone hovering over their shoulders,” she said.

In addition to the robotics competition, every team was tasked with a research project and presentation — proposing a solution to a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration.

One team set up an intergalactic fashion show with their clothing integrated with technology to address the problem by providing an outlet for self expression or increased efficiency with daily activities.

They created all the clothing themselves, some wired with flashing and colored lights. Some communicated wirelessly to a phone or tablet, monitoring vital signs.

One shirt had exercise bands built into it to prevent muscle loss.

A set of headsets indicated with lights when someone was busy and needed to not be disturbed or were not in a good mood.

The other team built personalized virtual reality for astronauts, using images of their houses and hometowns. They built a “terrain generator,” so that astronauts could exercise in familiar territory.

In order to gather information, the teams talked via Facetime to astronaut and Steamboat native Steve Swanson. They also talked to social workers and psychologists.

Highlights of the competition, the kids said, included the hotel, the pool, pizza, donuts and celebrating together. The actual event was “fun, but stressful,” and they enjoyed the experience. They also agreed one of the most fun parts was “seeing all the other people’s designs and what they come up with.”

They described their ability to work as a team and how they try different ideas before settling on what works.

For Maltby, one of the best parts is seeing everything that happens outside of robotics: the character building, problem solving, and core values emphasized in the competition that include things like making a positive impact in their communities.

“I love it because of how much they’ve grown,” Montgomery said.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden.

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