Idaho robotics teams challenge world competition in Houston

The robotic grappling arm lifts and places objects during matchplay competition. (Darren Svan/Idaho Education News)

Rural Idaho teenagers with a passion for math and science will compete on the world robotics stage next month in Houston.

Two teams from southeast Idaho are preparing for the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) championship, a five-day event that draws more than 300 teams from more than 31 countries to Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center.

Among the Dutch and Polish and Chinese teams will be a handful of small-town robotics teams: the Tesla Coils of Kimberly and Haywired of Filer. Both Idaho teams are regional winners at the First Tech Challenge (FTC) event held earlier this month at Cole Valley Christian School in Meridian.

To compete for a spot at the world championship, some of Idaho’s sharpest young minds brought 19 teams from across the state to prove their mettle on the robot competition field, where they fine-tuned their machines, navigated obstacles and earned points by strategically placing objects.

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The FTC regional event challenges teams to build robots from a reusable kit of parts, program them, develop strategies, document their progress, and compete head to head. On average, teams operate on a $5,000 budget.

“A lot of these kids are super highly intelligent,” said Lisa Lalliss-Skogsberg, the program’s executive director. “And this is a place where they can belong.”

Typically, these young people might be off by themselves with headphones on or playing a video game, she said.

“But here, they’ve got on a costume, they’re dancing in the aisles, they’re working and collaborating with each other; so they have that shared knowledge, that shared understanding, that higher functioning intelligence level that these kids all have,” Skogsberg said.

The Tesla Coils team (wearing hats) will represent Idaho at an upcoming world competition in Houston, Texas. They are fundraising through the team’s website. You can find the link to their page in the article. (Darren Svan/Idaho Education News)

The Tesla Coils won both of the competition’s major awards, which provided two admittance tickets to the world championship. As first runner-up, Haywired earned the second ticket and was given an opportunity to advance next month.

A team of self-described “farm kids,” Haywired is exploring the connection between agriculture and STEM.

This project is “centered on our love of agriculture,” said team spokesperson Tori Albritton.

Three members of the team are homeschooled and two attend Filer High School: Albritton, 18; Kaylee Lierman, 15; Bodie Lierman, 17; Josiah Graff, 16; and Keegon Claiborn, 15.

Part of the lead-up to competition requires teams to conduct community outreach and work with industry mentors.

Farm kids from the Filer area are exploring the connection between STEM and the agriculture industry. Haywired will compete in a world robotics competition next month. (Darren Svan/Idaho Education News)

Haywired selected Snake River Robotics, which operates an automatic dairy in Heyburn, and Cash Cow Dairy, a company that blends innovative technology and robotics into its production operations.

They also gained knowledge about autonomous technology from Daryll Schutte, a drone pilot who sprays seeds and fertilizer with his autonomous drone.

Albritton said, “We are ready to try just about anything.”

“When you think of STEM, you think of Micron. We want to showcase STEM in the ag community,” said Angela Lierman, the team’s coach.

FTC regional award winners 

  • Inspire – 5026 Tesla Coils
  • Design – 13003 The Electromanders
  • Motivate – 6088 Bolts, Nuts and Bots
  • Control – 14147 High Voltage Couch Bananas
  • Innovate – 5053 Clearwater Atomic Robotic Technicians
  • Connect – 19760 NIRB
  • Think – 18095 Haywired!
  • Compass – 6088 Deanna Finley
  • Promote – 18095 Haywired!
  • Winning Alliance – 5026 Tesla Coils
  • Finalist Alliance – 14147 High Voltage Couch Bananas

STEM in the agriculture industry 

An increasing number of companies are working on robotics innovation to develop drones, autonomous tractors, robotic harvesters, automatic watering and seeding robots.

“Drones are becoming increasingly essential for farmers, as they allow the farmer to see areas of the field that need attention without walking or driving through the field, possibly destroying part of the crop,” said Matt Fisher, a University of Idaho Extension Ag-STEM educator.

The university is applying for a National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant that will develop programs to increase agricultural awareness with students, and build interest and skills related to careers in agriscience and technology, Fisher said.

  • Workshops in robotics, artificial intelligence, data science and genetics technology. 
  • STEM opportunities for high school students through agricultural camps.
  • Hands-on learning with precision agriculture data collection with drones and sensors. 
  • Opportunity to learn more about the evolving field of genomic tools in agriculture.

“All the technological developments in the world do not matter if high school students are not filling the available jobs within the industry,” Fisher said. “There seems to be a disconnect of what agriculture jobs actually do offer and the perception of what agriculture jobs are.”

FRC regional robotics competition in Nampa

Over 50 U.S. and international high school teams will compete in the annual FIRST® Idaho Regional FRC Competition at the Ford Idaho Center March 31 – April 1. 

FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) teams compete with 120-pound robots of their own design, combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Teams are made up of students in grades 9-12. At least three teams will advance to the world championship in Houston in the FRC category.

In promoting STEM among the nation’s high school students, it’s one of the few extracurricular activities that allows every single participant to “turn pro” in creating the next generation of engineers, programmers and scientists, the organization wrote in a press release.

To learn more robotics events and opportunities in Idaho, and the upcoming FRC event in Nampa, click here.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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