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‘Unicorns’ robotics team takes FLL state, earns ticket to Houston

WY’EAST’S Pink Fluffy Unicorns —Johanna Walker, left, Annika Trainer, Noah McElheran, Bryn Heinemann, Charlie Wilson and Titus Grimsley — hold the trophies they won during the First Lego League championship in Hillsboro. The team is headed to the world championships in April, held in Houston.

Photo by Trisha Walker
WY’EAST’S Pink Fluffy Unicorns —Johanna Walker, left, Annika Trainer, Noah McElheran, Bryn Heinemann, Charlie Wilson and Titus Grimsley — hold the trophies they won during the First Lego League championship in Hillsboro. The team is headed to the world championships in April, held in Houston.



The Pink Fluffy Unicorns are headed to Worlds in April.

The Wy’east Middle School seventh grade team of Titus Grimsley, Bryn Heinemann, Noah McElheran, Annika Trainer, Johanna Walker and Charlie Wilson took first place at the First Lego League (FLL) Championship Tournament, held at Liberty High School in Hillsboro Jan. 13-14. They are one of two teams from a field of 114 to win the honor.

The Pink Fluffy Unicorns were selected for being the strongest in robot design, research project and core values, according to a press release.

This comes about a month after taking first at the local qualifier, held in The Dalles Dec. 9. Next up for these kids: World championships, held mid-April in Houston.

“These are smart, fun-loving kids who all bring unique, complementary talents to a team that has an amazing ability to cooperate and support one another,” said Head Coach Karen Heinemann. “They had a peak performance at the state competition and are enthusiastically looking forward to representing Hood River in the world championships in April.”

“I thought we had a chance, but didn’t think we’d go to Worlds, just because there were so many teams there,” said Wilson. This is the second year a Wy’east team has qualified. In 2017, the Pandroids placed 23rd in the 9-14-year-old division at Worlds.

Pink Fluffy Unicorns has been working on this year’s challenge, Hydrodynamics, since school began in September. Hydrodynamics focuses on “how humans affect the water cycle and how to improve it,” said Bryn Heinemann, “and how to transport and dispose of water.”

The team tackled safe irrigation pipe inspection for their project, inventing PORPI — professionally operated robotic pipe inspector — an antonymous robot equipped with a Go Pro camera, light, gyro sensor and counting mechanism, so those going back over the video can pinpoint exactly where a leak is located.

They expanded on a crawler already in use at Farmers Irrigation, adding better lighting and programming.

“We talked about it as a group to build the idea,” said Grimsley. “We used the design process, and the idea evolved.”

They also knew they needed to design high-quality wheels.

“If there was debris in the pipes and (PORPI) ran over it, it would be able to keep going in a straight line,” said Trainer.

The team has learned a few things since coming together at Mid Valley as fifth graders, they said, like the importance of a gyro sensor to keep the robot traveling in a straight line, new programing aspects, how to accelerate and decelerate, and how to program the robot to do multiple missions at once.

While the team is generally excited about the win and the prospect of Worlds — Walker isn’t quite sure about it yet — no one expected this outcome. Coach Heinemann braced the kids for a loss during the team’s last meeting before the state meet.

“My mom was like, ‘You’re not gonna win, it’s not gonna be you, this will be a learning experience,’” said Bryn Heinemann.

“We were going to prove her wrong,” said Wilson, who did the math and figures there was a 1.4 percent chance of them making it to Worlds.

“It’s exciting to see the kids rise to the occasion and represent our small school in a big way,” said Patrick Getchis, Wy’east industrial tech teacher. “Their enthusiasm for robotics and success in FLL has helped create a playful buzz for STEM at Wy’east Middle School.”

The team has set up a Go Fund Me account to help pay for expenses at www.gofundme.com/wyeast-robotics-team-to-worlds.

“Our gratitude goes out to Les Perkins of Farmers Irrigation, who generously volunteered his time to help the team with their research project, Patrick Getchis and Wy’east Middle School, Sarah Owens and Mid Valley Elementary, where their journey started three years ago, the Pandroids, the Gorge Technology Alliance and the Hood River business and robotics community,” said Karen Heinemann.

In addition, the team worked with John Buckley of East Fork Irrigation, Julie Heinemann of UTC Aerospace Systems, and Daniel Saldivar of The Dalles Irrigation District, as well as presented their idea to the Hood River Valley High School Men in Green robotics team, on which Trainer’s brother, Dylan, is a member.

The kids have kept their original team name, Pink Fluffy Unicorns, all three years they’ve been together. It was the start of a popular song, Walker explained (I don’t suggest you Google it; it’s really annoying) and the team voted on it.

This year, there was talk of switching names, but in the end, they decided to keep it.

“It’s a very unique and different name,” said Bryn Heinemann.

“And it resembles us,” added McElheran.

“And unicorns are amazing,” Trainer concluded.



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