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HCISD Robot takes on gardening project

December 30, 2018

HARLINGEN — Dewey moves slowly about his tasks, watering and tending the last surviving plant life from Earth. The robot has been tending this forest since 1972 when the movie “Silent Running” aired, carefully maintaining it somewhere beyond Saturn. It’s a grave responsibility, because no vegetation remains on Earth.

Fortunately, the robot tending the garden at STEM2 Preparatory Academy hasn’t been charged with such a weighty task. It’s just growing lettuce, carrots, bok choy and broccoli for the students to eat in the cafeteria.

Furthermore, it’s not alone in its venture. If a problem arises, the HCISD Robotics Community Service Team can step in to assist, as well as students from STEM2.

The 12 students on the team have a thorough understanding of the robot and the garden for which it is employed. After all, they’ve been working on it since the summer, and finished it Wednesday.

“Over the summer we started building our FarmBot,” said Arlette McClain, 17, a senior at Harlingen High School.

FarmBot is the name of the kit in which the robot came.

“We actually had to build the robot and then program it to do everything,” she said. “I enjoyed getting to do it as a team. Alignment was a really critical thing for the robot. If it’s even one centimeter off it wouldn’t work, so we had to make sure it was aligned on each side.”

Hector Elizondo, an ECHS junior, enjoyed working with students from other schools.

“It was fun collaborating with different schools that we usually have a rivalry against,” said Hector, 17. “The cool thing was how we worked together and built it and it’s just moving on its own.”

The team is made up of four students from Harlingen High School, Harlingen High School South, and Early College High School, said Paul Tenison, one of six teachers assisting with the project. A great deal of engineering went into the project, which is called LEAF – Leading Engineers for Automated Farming.

“It’s a pretty big garden, 200 square feet,” Tenison said. “We sowed the seeds today. The robot picks the seed up and moves it and puts it in a grid system so it knows exactly where each seed is. Then it goes and waters that spot. It’s got a moisture sensor that will check the moisture of the soil and water when necessary.”

The project is the latest of many endeavors by the Harlingen school district to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering an Math) skills with real world learning experiences. Such efforts are outlined in the district’s Strategic Plan to help prepare students to be college and career ready.

Now the middle school students will take over.

“They will have to maintain the robot,” Tenison said. “They will probably have to keep the leaves and twigs out of the garden if they fall from the trees. But as far as the watering and the weeding they should not have to do anything.”

The project presented challenges on many levels.

“There were mechanical challenges with getting all of the rails and wheels and pulleys and drive systems and belts all assembled and adjusted and tweaked,” Tenison said. “Then we also struggled with the programming.”

The 12 students and their instructors had to program the robot’s motors turn on at the correct time for the right amount of time so it would know where it’s going. They programmed the robot to turn on separate components to carry out its certain tasks.

Perhaps through the robot the students also managed to create new programming in their inquisitive minds to carry out new challenges awaiting them.

twhitehead@valleystar.com

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