Students put robots through their paces

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Madeline Goble and Daniela Santillan watch their as their robot winds its way through its course during the second-to-last day of robotic camp at Frontier Middle School on Wednesday.

MOSES LAKE — It's the penultimate day of Robotics Camp at Frontier Middle School.

And students are trying to figure out how to make their Lego robots navigate the “orchard challenge” on the floor of the FMS library.

“It's a bit difficult,” said Osiel Mora, who will be starting as a high school freshman later this month. “It takes some strategy, has to rotate and turn, has to go straight and cannot hit the trees.”

“This is the second year I've done this,” Mora added. “You get to play with Legos, but it's good for future plans if you want to be an engineer.”

It isn't as easy as it looks, as students program their Mindstorms robots to move and turn without taking down any of the paper and cardboard trees on a course where the lines are at just enough angle to each other to give the robots plenty of opportunity to mess up.

“I like seeing how the robot does what you want it to do,” said Daniela Santillan, who will be starting eighth grade in the fall.

“I like seeing the progress in the programming,” said Madeline Goble, who is also starting high school in August and who it Santillan's partner at robotics camp. “I did this last year for three weeks, and this year for two.”

Robotics camp was held at Frontier this year from July 16 through today, with an advanced class from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., followed by a beginner's course from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Goble and her partner Santillon sets their robot down, presses a button, and off it goes. With each error it makes — a wrong-angled turn that sends it careening into the paper trees along the intended route — she picks it up, plugs it into a laptop computer, and changes some numbers or some commands.

And the run the course over and over again, correcting for mistakes, trying to get their robot to the end of the course — exactly back where it started — without knocking down any trees.

Eventually, after a lot of trial and error, they get it.

“It's pretty fun,” said Kelly Mengist, one of the instructors in the Frontier Middle School Gear Up program.

Gear Up is a state program designed to help kids start thinking about and planning for college and careers in middle school. Mengist said the program in the Moses Lake school does this by providing things like tutoring and field trips to colleges.

And, of course, robotics camp.

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