As of Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Bus rides to school are normal, but a bus ride to Worlds?
Robotics students at Hood River Valley High School boarded a CAT bus Tuesday morning to go to Portland International Airport and then on to Houston, Texas, for the World Robotics Competition this week.
As the A05 Annex and Steelheads First Robotics Technology teams settled into their seats on the 18-seat bus, driver Patty Connolly stood up and spoke, but she did not give some rules of the road speech.
“Hood River is really proud of you guys,” Connolly said, “and I want you to know I’m really happy to be able to do this, speaking as a former school teacher.”
The robotics program approached CAT about getting a ride to Portland International, and offered to pay for it, but the transportation district donated the bus and driver. The in-kind donation saved on gas and hundreds of dollars in parking fees, and gave the students a chance to start their out-of-state adventure together. Parents drove the students’ gear to PDX in a private van.
Meanwhile, the Wy’east Middle School Fluffy Pink Unicorns First Lego League team is already in Houston.
Adviser Jeff Blackman said this is the first time, nationally, that one school district has sent three teams to Worlds.
Students raised $50,000 for the trip, according to Blackman. “They just got out and worked for it,” he said, including a GoFundMe effort for all three teams, and matches from Insitu and Intel, numerous checks in the $500-$1,000 range from local businesses and individuals, and other donations totaling 300 gifts.
“Once people see students do amazing things they’re more open to support it,” Blackman said. “These kids earn it, and I think that’s how people look at it.” He said that in the 10 years since high school robotic was formed, the high school teams have given 15,000-plus community service hours, between mentoring and holding competitions.
Robotics competition, while just one part of what STEM is all about, is a highly-visible program made possible through school and community technology partnerships.
According to a Hood River Robotics history written by Erin Burnham of Hood River, it has been 10 years since Mark Dane started coaching a team and holding competitions in Hood River in 2008.
With the support of the GTA (Gorge Tech Alliance), this started the robots rolling through the Gorge, spreading to many other communities including White Salmon, Odell, The Dalles, Dufur, Maupin and Wasco. FLL gives children age 9-14 a chance to learn to design, build and program a robot to perform various tasks.
As reported in the Hood River News, the Pink Fluffy Unicorns team took first place out of 114 teams at the Oregon State First Lego League Championship Tournament this season, and will be competing at the World Robotics competition in Houston Texas April 17-22.
Another local team, the Hydro Automatons from Hood River, won the fourth place award and has been invited to compete at the First Lego League North American Open Championship on May 18 at Legoland in California.
This isn’t the first time a Hood River County FLL team has advanced this far: in 2017, the Pandroids from Wy’east advanced to the Worlds Competition and placed 23rd in the World.
The larger FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) robots are an increasingly common sight in Hood River. As Burnham reports, “In 2009, Jeff Blackman started teaching a robotics class at HRVHS and his students started competing in the FTC. These robots originally used the Lego brain, but now are operated using Android cell phones. These robots are bigger — an 18-inch cube, built from Tetrix parts or parts that the students design and create in the classroom using CAD and 3D printers or laser etchers. This program at HRVHS has steadily grown, and Blackman now teaches three robotics classes each semester. Last year, HRVHS had 12 teams competing in FTC competitions.”
Look for Burnham’s full Robotics history in an upcoming Hood River News.