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4-H program takes honors at international robot competition

Creating a robot that can move, then grab and lift items, has led a team of Washington and Idaho 4-H students to a top finish at an international competition.

five high school kids hold up a banner that says FIRST Robotics Competition WINNER and a plaque.
Members of the Palouse Area Robotics Team show off the banner earned from their championship win.

A team of around 40 high school 4-H students built a robot that helped win the Newton Division at the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics Competition World Championships in Houston in April.

The Washington State Extension 4-H Program created Team 4061, the Palouse Area Robotics Team, made up of students from Pullman, Colton, Colfax and Moscow high schools. 14 members of their team travelled to Houston for the competition.

“Having programs like this is so important to show these young students how to apply what they’re learning in their math and science classes,” said Whitman County 4-H director Janet Schmidt. “And it’s so exciting for them to have this level of success at an international competition.”

The team paired up with two other teams from around the U.S. to win, as the competition is a 3-on-3 tournament in which teams stack cubes on two scales of different heights.

By winning their division, the team moved on to the champions-only competition called the Einstein Field. Their team finished in third place of this winners’ tournament.

Six week learning process

The students had six weeks to design, build, test, and prepare their robot for competition. They started with a regional competition in Portland and did so well that they qualified for the world championships.

Group photo of robot team designers, all wearing bright orange team shirts, pose around their robot. the robot is short and rectangular with around a dozen neon green wheels.
The Palouse Area Robotics Team members & volunteer advisors that went to Houston pose with their robot in the arena where they won their division.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for these kids and they learned so much,” said Helena Johnson, business mentor and volunteer for the team. “The competition focuses on the engineering improvement process of having a theory, testing it out, then doing that again to continually improve.”

Each year, the FIRST high school level program offers a different game that students have to design their robot for. This year, it was cubes on scales. Every team in the world learns the rules of the game at the same time and has six weeks to design and build their robot.

Specific design goals

The Palouse team’s design was small, quick, and compact. Their robot could pick up cubes, and used a ramp to shoot the cubes onto the lower scales. Then, at the end of each game, their robot got lifted by another team’s robot to earn bonus points.

Their victory came in an alliance with teams from Davis, Calif., Longmont, Colorado, and Independence, Missouri.

“Many kids learn what they want to study in college by working in the FIRST program,” Johnson said. “We’ve had several kids who say they aren’t good at science or math when they start. Then they’ll tell us they want to study engineering after working on this project. That’s the really fun part.”

The final game was a best two out of three matches. Watch team 4061 in their two championship matches here:

Match 1: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/252821093?t=03h58m25s

Match 2: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/252821093?t=04h12m20s