Robots visit campus; green efforts practiced

The Alumni Center was transformed into an exhibit hall as nearly 960 elementary and middle school students participated in Ecobot, a challenge to build functioning robots.

The robots were built ahead of time and were brought by students to perform a series of environmental tasks, such as getting a magnet from underneath a mine, pulling down a car from a small podium and putting beans in a small box.

Joe Paneitz, who developed the Ecobot Challenge, said the students were bringing all of their concepts based on real environmental issues going on around the world.

“The kids developed game pieces that helped exploit that concept,” Paneitz said. “We want to teach kids all over Texas about these environmental concepts, but we want them to use technology, engineering, math and science to explore these concepts.”

The teams developed their own robots, making them any way they wanted. They used a Lego Mindstorms education NXT Robot kit, which they had to program to complete the tasks.

Each team of students had one robot to perform the tasks in two minutes.

Because of the diversity in the students’ creativity, all of the robots were uniquely designed with different types of attachments.

The competition was comprised of students from 5th through the 8th grade from all over Texas.

Dante Gonzalez, a nine-year-old from Almeda Elementary School, enjoyed the challenge. This was the first year that his team participated.

“I really like how if you do different kinds of attachments, the robot can do almost anything you can imagine,” he said.

Gonzalez’s team had been practicing for almost a year during school.

They had a practice table similar to the one in the challenge to prepare his robot to do the tasks.

“It’s been a little hard to get the robot the right attachments, because it took a while to learn how the robots work, so we didn’t have that much time to work on the attachments, so ours was kind of messy,” Gonzalez said.

Margaret Tipton, who was a judge at the event and also a counselor at Alice Johnson Junior High, was amazed at how much students know about electronics at such a young age.

“I’m just amazed at how much they know about electronics. Even at our school, these kids come at six in the morning and they don’t want to go home at night,” Tipton said. “They are working on robotics and get a lesson every day.”

The winning teams took back a trophy to their school.

However, for Gonzalez, the big win was not the trophy, but to be on television.

“They say that whoever wins gets to be on TV, and I want to be on TV,” Gonzalez said.

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