Jackson County 4-H offers weeklong robotics camp

Only one point separated the top two teams in a competition at the end of the Advanced Lego Robotics Camp.

Luke Hildreth and Lane Schrader were victorious with 259 points, edging Jay Herbert and Oliver Lanam’s 258.

As a reward, Luke and Lane were the first ones to pick a Lego kit to take home.

Don’t worry: All 12 teams of two or three got to pick their own kits, too.

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It was a great way to end a week full of learning about how to build and program robots to perform a variety of tasks.

“It’s exciting, and it’s good to know that we completed it and finished our robot,” Lane said following Friday’s competition at the Jackson County Learning Center on Seymour’s east side.

The two 11-year-old Immanuel Lutheran School sixth-graders were among 30 boys and girls in grades 3 through 6 participating in the camp. It was organized by Jackson County 4-H and led by Joe Fuehne, director and associate professor of mechanical engineering technology at Purdue Polytechnic Columbus.

This was Luke’s third year attending the camp, and he asked Lane to come last year for the first time.

“He liked it a lot, so then he came this year with me again. When you’re building, it’s just really fun to do it with your friends,” Luke said.

“We’ve just been friends for our whole lives, so we just work together good,” Lane said. “We’re just friends, and we’re so alike. We’re like almost twins practically.”

Luke said the camp is beneficial because they learn how to program robots and follow instructions to make them work, and Lane said it helps build teamwork.

Fuehne said the kids spent the first day of camp building the robots, and then they turned their attention toward programming the robots with software on a laptop computer.

They had several challenges leading up to Friday’s competition, which their parents were invited to attend.

In the First Lego League game Hydro Dynamics, the kids had nearly 15 challenges they could try to complete to earn points. They had two minutes in each of the two rounds.

“This is not remote control. They don’t have joysticks and driving around doing that,” Fuehne said. “It’s programmable control, which means they have to like programming. They start in the base area and make it run and let it go. The robot has to go out and do something and go back.”

Fuehne said teams that normally compete in the First Lego League competitions have worked together for three months, so he was impressed with the kids learning everything in a short amount of time at camp.

“These young kids have been terrifically well-behaved and interested and engaged, and that’s what we want to see,” he said.

Each year, the game changes, so that keeps it interesting for returning campers.

“We actually used a different Lego set this time, so we had a different robot, and we had some different challenges,” Fuehne said. “Even though some were repeating, they would still have seen some different things. The programming environment was a little bit different than it was last year, so again, they get to see something a little bit different.”

With kids’ knowledge nowadays, Fuehne said they quickly pick up on the skills.

“They soak it up like a sponge, and using computers is nothing for them. They are used to it,” he said. “I could probably bring in a set of 50ish engineers to do this, and they would be more afraid than the kids. Kids don’t have that issue. They just come in and do their thing, so it’s fun to watch them.”

Next season, Fuehne said the game has a space theme.

Lane said he encourages other kids to attend the camp and give robotics a try.

“Anybody who thinks about it, just come and bring a friend and you’ll have fun,” he said.