Students show off skills, creativity in robotics competition


Students from eight Jackson County schools spent early Saturday morning scurrying around Immanuel Lutheran School making last-moment adjustments and trial runs with their robots before the second Jackson County Robotics Competition.

Miles Chandler, a fifth grader and member of the robotics team at the Seymour school, was one of the competitors getting a little bit more practice in before the main event began.

Chandler, who also competed in the first county robotics competition a year ago, said the competition is awesome.

“I like building your own robot and then seeing it come to life,” he said.

Chandler and about 140 other students from elementary and junior high schools were on hand for the competition, which features matches of two, two-member teams. Each team tries to score the most points in one minute by completing a task during a match.

Points are scored by placing colored rings around posts that line a field. Teams carry the points throughout eight qualifying matches and their total points are ranked. The top six teams then face off to compete for a trophy.

Matches ran continuously throughout the day.

The competition also features a skills running portion where individual robots score as many points as possible.

A second part of the skills portion features students programming the robots to run autonomously. Students get three chances to get their best score. Once their best scores are determined, the scores are added to determine the winner of that portion of the competition.

Chandler developed his robot to have three cages, which act as claws that pick up the rings, so he could score more points in one load.

“We can score 30 points this way,” he said. “Some people have three claws.”

That kind of ingenuity is what students subconsciously pick up by participating on the team.

Dallas Goecker, who serves as Immanuel’s coach and organizes the competition, said it is rewarding to see when students’ ideas click and put into action.

Goecker said he never tells students exactly what to do to make improvements to their robots, but guides them so they can learn more about operations and programming.

“They learn from their mistakes, so I let them make mistakes,” he said. “They learn much more that way versus if I say they shouldn’t do something and make that decision for them.”

But he does let them learn mistakes quickly so time isn’t wasted.

Goecker makes a perfect fit for the team’s coach as he is an engineer that designs robots for a company based in California.

He organizes the competitions and helped start the program in Jackson County through Trinity Lutheran High School’s team. He and a number of others in the community work closely with the schools and Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. to secure resources for schools to start teams and helps provide them with ongoing needs.

“This is the biggest competition we’ve had,” he said while observing the competition. “Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. is a big part in kickstarting this program.”

Programs also have received various grant opportunities through the state.

The competition has experienced a lot of growth since last year when it featured 18 teams.

Saturday’s competition had more than 50, Goecker said.

Growth is sure to continue as Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. plans to add additional funds in its 2018 budget for robotics, Jackie Hill, JCIDC workforce director, said.

The organization hopes to get programs started in Medora and Crothersville too. Crothersville once had a program, but it has not been active for some time.

But funds only provide materials and resources, Goecker said, adding the other reason for the growth is the number of teachers willing to take on the coaching role.

“We have a lot of good teachers and mentors in Jackson County that have stepped up,” he said. “They’ve built a lot of interest.”

Goecker said he is excited to see many young female students get involved with the program too. The competitions can sometimes favor a large male population, but if Saturday’s competition was an indication, more female students will join in the growth in Jackson County.

That is the trend nationally, Goecker said.

“If you take nationally, it’s not a 50-50 ratio, but it’s not far off,” he said. “The girls have a lot to offer.”

Madelyn Busby, a seventh grader at Seymour Middle School, and her partner Elina Baker, an eighth grader, was just one of many all female teams.

Busby said she became interested in the program last year, but did not join until this year. When she participated in a competition earlier this year, her interest increased.

She enjoys learning about the robot’s functions and the variety that can be done with them, she said.

“I really like building and competing,” she said.

On Saturday, the two discovered they needed to make adjustments after the first two matches.

“Our design is kind of not really working well,” Busby said, following her third match. With a few adjustments, the team was able to improve their score from two and five in the first two matches to 20 in the third.

“We added more stability to the robot; that was the problem.”

The two also made the claw shorter, which provided a better grip on the rings prior to being placed.

Joey Larrison, a seventh grader at Seymour Middle School, said he became interested in robots when his friend and dad introduced him to the competition.

He said he enjoys knowing how the robots operate, but also enjoys the creative side of building one.

“There’s just a lot of possibilities you can go with,” he said, adding he likes to experiment through trial-and-error. “It’s not hard to have to completely start over and build another robot if something doesn’t work.”

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