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Champion. Robots. - from The Messenger

January 27, 2019

Picking up a couple of plastic cubes and balls and putting them down a few feet away doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult task.

It isn’t — for a person.

They don’t have to think about the complex series of motions, decisions and judgments. They just do it.

Getting a robot to do those things however, is complicated and there are probably as many engineering solutions to the problem as there are student engineers working on it.

The results of those students’ efforts were put on display Saturday during the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotic League Championships at Fort Dodge Senior High as they tested their machines against the task and other area teams.

FDSH student prepares a robot for competition

Sometimes Murphy’s Law can and will prove itself.

Brady Jaster, 15, a freshman at Southwinn High School in Calmar, got a little experience with that.

“We accidentally hit our power button,” he said. “We didn’t go. It’s just something that happens every once in awhile.”

Elijah Yates, 14, a freshman at Fort Dodge Senior High, is experiencing his first year of robotics competition.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a great way to learn how to use skills and put them into real life situations.”

Each team has members with different areas of interest and different areas of skills.

Yates, who is considering a career as a robotics engineer is firmly on the hardware side.

“I do prefer building over programming,” he said.

Parker Johnson, 17, a senior at Southeast Valley High School in Gowrie, wore a white navy sailor cap to the meet. He is after all, the captain. The team is the JagWIRES.

“I got it from a friend,” he said.

Costuming and fun hats are part of the event. One student wore a toilet plunger hat. Several had furry animal heads and there was even a shark and a cheeseburger hat.

Under the hats, though, is some serious thinking.

Johnson was working to get the programming just perfect.

“Our first heat with the program went wrong,” he said. “We now have the automation correct.”

Besides learning technology, he said that robotics have taught him many other skills. He cites professionalism, team work, forming partnerships and being able to communicate.

“If you had asked me questions two years ago I would have cowered away,” he said.

Whether seeking a career in the field or not, Johnson recommends it.

Fellow team members Katara Jondle, 18, a senior and Malik Brooks, 17, a junior agree with Johnson. They too have experienced growth in their teamwork, communication and speaking skills.

For the Recker family, of Fort Dodge, robotics have become a family activity.

They’re the Robot Reckers.

FDSH students drive their robot during competition

Tony and Dana Recker have both been volunteering at meets for the past three years.

Their sons, Ethan Recker, 17, and Owen Recker, 15 are active participants on Fort Dodge’s team.

“It’s fun to watch teams from all over Iowa,” Dana Recker said. “It’s neat to see the teams grow from their first year.”

She sees positive results in her own children from the program.

“It’s helped my kids,” she said. “For Ethan, I’ve seen him mature and take on more of a leader position. Owen likes to explore, especially the 3-D printing. I can’t say enough good things about Ed Birkey — he encourages them to use their strengths and encourages them to take chances.”

The youngest, Aidan Recker, was along Saturday as a volunteer with his parents.

“I decided to volunteer because of the food,” he joked. “I mean help out and stuff.”

Fort Dodge Community School District Superintendent Jesse Ulrich was on hand to watch the students compete.

He’s an active advocate of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs in the district.

“Everything we want out of our future engineering students is here today,” he said.

The top eight teams in Saturday’s competition will advance to the next level of competition.

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