Steamboat teen wins 4-H state grand champion in robotics
Starting at 3 or 4 years old, Steamboat Springs native Eva Reynolds asked her mom for a screwdriver so she could take apart her toys.
“She would take apart the kitchen appliance in the play kitchen, take the screws out, see how the gears worked and put it back together,” said mom Kira Reynolds.
As a youngster, Eva watched intently when her dad, Nathan Reynolds, fixed equipment, snowmobiles and dirt bikes so that she could see how they worked.
Now at age 14, Eva is this year’s 4-H robotics state grand champion, beating out both her age group and the older teen group at the recent Colorado State Fair. She was the only girl competing in robotics at this year’s fair, her second year qualifying for state competition. In order to compete in Pueblo, she beat out a smart group of kids in the local 4-H robotics club, which is coached by retired Texas Instruments engineers Kim and Jack Smith.
At the fair, Reynolds earned a perfect score of 400.
“It’s hard to get a perfect score, especially with this challenge. Some things don’t go exactly the way you planned,” Eva said. “When we did practice runs, I was getting a perfect score, but I was not completing one of the challenges. I had to struggle at state to rewrite code.”
Robotics youth competitors write computer code to pre-program hand-sized Lego Mindstorms robots, which look like mini forklifts, to run a course of tasks in five minutes for three runs.
After the races, a competitor asked Eva if she would show him her winning code, and she did.
“The great thing with Eva is she has the brainpower and the heart power,” coach Kim Smith said. “She is always willing to help others. She’s just an all-around amazing person.”
Eva is now a freshman at Steamboat Mountain School, where she is joining a new robotics club using FTC, or FIRST Tech Challenge, where teams of students in seventh to 12th grades are challenged to design, build, program and operate robots to compete in a head-to-head challenge in an alliance format.
Eva said participating in 4-H robotics for the past three years taught her “problem-solving, the ability to stick with something when it’s very frustrating, team work and patience.
“It’s one thing to write a code and know that it works, but the biggest part of robotics is knowing how to think on the spot,” said Eva, whose other hobbies include putting together 3D metal puzzles when she is not skiing or reading books. “Figuring out how to make something work is very difficult, but it’s very rewarding to do.”
She also acknowledges the Smiths, the enthusiastic local volunteer coaches for the past four years.
“They are amazing, super fun, super supportive and the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met,” said Eva, who attended North Routt Community Charter School when she was younger and then was home schooled for the past four years.
Smith said the local 4-H robotics program usually includes 30 to 35 kids, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited the current group size.
“It’s really great to give these kids a taste and touch of that to add to their well-roundedness of living in Routt County,” Smith said. “This is really hard stuff, coding on a computer and downloading to a robot. Our future is all going to be robotics and coding. It’s so cool to see these young kids embrace this.”
Eva said she spent 40 hours on a laptop since April, creating code to teach the robot how to deliver specific boxes on certain routes.
“After robotics, she always comes home with a smile,” Kira Reynolds said of her curious, creative, deep-thinker daughter. “It’s really fun to see how much she enjoys it.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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With abnormally low snow levels, most of the snow skiers and snowboarders will encounter Saturday during Steamboat Resort’s Opening Day will be manufactured.