Robotics tournament builds future engineers The six members of the Salmon Creek Huskybots team set out in September to find a solution for tinnitus—ringing in the ears—a problem suffered by many senior citizens. The Huskybots spent two months, meeting two or more times a week, researching and preparing for an upcoming presentation of their findings.
The team’s senior mentor, who is the grandfather of two team members, suffers from tinnitus. The team researched tinnitus and questioned audiologists. Ultimately the Huskybots developed a theory for using Bluetooth technology as a possible solution for tinnitus. The team also built and programmed a mini-robot to complete tasks that seniors may find challenging as they age.
On Dec. 1, they joined more than 100 other would-be engineers and computer programmers, between the ages of nine and 14, to present their research on improving the quality of life for senior citizens.
The students, as well as judges, volunteers, coaches, and parents flock to Salmon Creek Elementary School each year to compete in the energetic, two-day First Lego League Qualifying Tournament.
Team designs included a motorized cart to help an elderly grandmother get the garbage down a steep driveway. Another design was branded “Fall Call,” a device with a motion sensor that would automatically alert emergency services if it tipped or fell to the floor. Throughout the tournament, students presented their designs and answered questions put to them by judges of adult engineering professionals.
The tournaments, held throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, encourage students to demonstrate their enthusiasm and knowledge of math, science and engineering in a fun, engaging way. It is a pathway to get kids excited about education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Sponsored by the Oregon University System Chancellor’s Office, ORTOP (Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program) has grown from 60 teams in 2000, to more than 435 teams today.
“It gives young people the experience of being an engineer, programmer, designer, and strategist,” said Jim Settlemyer, the lead referee for the tournament. “They get to do the things adults do in science and engineering careers.”
Volunteers are critical in the success of the event. They act as coaches, judges, and mentors. The Skyview High School Stormbots robotics team has volunteered at the event for the past three years. The Travis Hays Literacy Fund has sponsored a Salmon Creek Elementary School team for the past eight years. Teams also include students from other Vancouver schools. The Knights of the Lego Table is a Felida neighborhood team. Five teams were from McLoughlin Middle School. While none of these teams advanced to finals to be held in Hillsboro in January, they gain invaluable skills.
“The biggest thing in the competition is problem solving,” said Settlemyer. “Students also learn firsthand the sharing and cooperation that is necessary among team members.”