AP NEWS

Robotics kids take lead in Mars exploration

March 2, 2019

HARLINGEN — The robot moved slowly, deliberately across the Martian landscape, easily clearing a crater.

“ I wish it would do that trick,” said John Dante Sandoval, 11, a member of the Intergalactic Mustangs at Vernon Middle School.

The trick?

“ Sometimes it pops a wheelie,” said fellow Mustang Makayla Wisdom, 12.

She and her fellow robotics team members are psyched about competing tomorrow in the FIRST Lego League RGV Championship.

They’re already feeling stoked about their success Feb. 16 at the RGV Qualifier 2 at STEM Squared Academy. They were named Champions among 24 teams competing, said John Bruseth, Intergalactic coach.

“ This is an exact replica of the table that is used in competition so each one of these are a challenge,” he said, looking across a table with different “challenges” such as the crater.

Other challenges made of Legos included a solar array for capturing energy, retrieving core samples, and launching a shuttle.

“ Here you have Martian craters the robot has to navigate over without falling down,” Bruseth said. He pointed to a Lego piece standing upright.

“ This one is actually launching a rocket into orbit,” he said.

A student had just tripped it, sending a small rocket into the air.

“ It’s easy for a person to do obviously but to have a robot do it autonomously is a challenge,” he said.

The table challenges count for about 30 percent of the students’ overall grade at competition.

“ They have to present and discuss core values and give examples. They have to discuss their projects,” he said. “They have to discuss their robot design and explain how they came up with what they did.”

The robot and its four challenges seemed to have inspired the students.

“ It’s really motivating with everything that we do,” said Makayla. “It helps build our emotions and it helps build our strengths in what we want to do in our future.”

So how do emotions play into such a scientific project?

“ If we’re down, our team can help us,” she said. “If we’re happy we can get more done with the robot.”

The whole concept of teamwork seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

“ I enjoyed working with everybody together and having fun together,” said Dustin Boston, 13.

They also appreciated the many challenges they had to overcome.

“ I did some research and I programmed the gyro on the robot,” Dustin said. “The gyro was hard. It was a lot of complicated stuff, but after learning it, it got simple.”

They put a lot of research into their projects, and that sweetened their success.

“ It feels pretty good because the research we have found is really going to help out in the future such as when we go on Mars and colonize it,” said Cecely Marie Garcia, 13.

Makayla delighted in the whole learning experience.

“ What I’ve enjoyed most is probably building the whole robot and learning new programs,” she said.

And with that she focused her eyes on the robot, fastened a set of arms on the front, and sent it across the table to adjust the solar array.

twhitehead@valleystar.com