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Area robotics teams advance to state

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | February 16, 2022 12:00 AM

Northwest Montana robotics teams are headed to the Montana FIRST Lego League Challenge and FIRST Tech Challenge state championships.

Three FIRST Lego League teams from West Valley School, two teams from Ronan and two from Eureka will compete at the FIRST Lego League championship Feb. 26 at Montana State University in Bozeman. The teams made state after making the top 30 out of 52 teams at the FIRST Lego League Montana State Virtual Qualifier Feb. 5.

The RoboScout Squad, made up of members from Girl Scout Troop 3709, will be competing at the FIRST Tech Challenge March 5 in Belgrade.

At state, all teams will be tasked with completing missions or objectives centered around the theme of shipping and logistics.

The FIRST Lego League Challenge is open to children ages 9 through 14. At this level, students use kits to build and program robots to complete missions. This year, competitors will program robots to navigate a game board, retrieving and delivering cargo to help planes, trains and trucks complete their work within two and a half minutes, according to a press release. Competitors will also present on the process of coding and designing their robots. In a third part of the competition, students research and share solutions to a problem on the season’s theme.

The FIRST Tech Challenge is a more advanced program geared to seventh- through 12th-graders, who design, build and code robots to complete outlined objectives. RoboScout coach Krista Nunnally said during matches lasting two minutes and 30 seconds, four robots will navigate obstacles on a 12x12 field to strategically collect and deliver cargo to locations of various heights.

“A match consists of a 30-second autonomous period in which the robot moves based on coding alone, followed by a two-minute remote control period,” she said.

Teams will also present their robots to a panel of judges, explaining the design process and submitting engineering portfolios and notebooks describing their work during the season.

The RoboScout Squad, made up of high school girls, is now in its fifth year. With three years of experience competing in Lego League before moving up to the Tech Challenge, the team has used their knowledge to mentor the rookie West Valley teams — The Lumberjacks, Techy Nerds and Tech Vipers.

West Valley started the robotics teams after implementing an Introduction to Robotics class and have been preparing for state with help from the RoboScout Squad, who have served as mentors to the rookie teams.

“It would be exciting to have more Local groups start their own FLL teams and foster a regional robotics presence for the Flathead Valley,” said West Valley adviser Matt Honcoop.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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