Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Toby Lepley, 979-845-1212, email@example.com
Derrick Bruton, 972-952-9264, firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN ANTONIO – Teams of 4-H and FFA members from throughout Texas applied their technical and interpersonal skills at the Agrobotics Challenge held recently at the Morris Activity Center during the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“We had about 30 teams from various counties across the state participate in this year’s challenge,” said Derrick Bruton, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist for 4-H youth development, Dallas, who coordinated the event. “In all, there were more than a hundred youth participating in this year’s challenge.”
Teams of three to five participants were divided into junior and senior teams, with the junior teams for ages 11-13 and senior teams for ages 14-18. Each team had three hours to construct, program and test robots to complete agriculture-related tasks set out in the challenge.
“This contest was designed to inspire young people and develop an early interest in robotics engineering and technology with an agricultural focus,” said Dr. Toby Lepley, AgriLife Extension statewide 4-H youth development specialist, College Station. “This team competition tests the construction skills and teamwork proficiency of the participants. This year we chose a task focused on the natural resource of water and building a robot that could harvest and distribute water for use in agricultural commodities such as crops and livestock.”
Robots were constructed from LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kits. They were tested and judged on task completion using a raised platform built to scale with locations for harvesting the water and for distribution to various commodity groups. Beads were used to represent 100 gallons of water, and robots were built and programmed to harvest the water and to distribute it to specific commodity areas.
“Teams not only applied STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — skills but also interpersonal skills, such as leadership and teamwork, to complete the eight separate tasks within the challenge,” Lepley said. “With the deadline to build and program the robot and get it to successfully complete the tasks assigned, there’s a certain amount of stress. It was important the team members learned how to work together and resolve any problems under those time constraints.”
David Palacios, 17, of Bexar County 4-H and a member of the 4-H Technology Team, was among this year’s participants.
“It’s a challenge to build and program the robot in time,” Palacios said. “But we learn to work together to complete the tasks and have fun doing it.”
Palacios said while some team members excel at the construction, others are more adept at programming and other aspects of the challenge.
“We have to make a lot of adjustments to the design as we go along and fix any problems that come up,” he said. “It’s important that we communicate and stay flexible so we can evolve the design and test any changes as we go along to make sure they work.”
Junior and senior teams were judged on the basis of “match” and teamwork scores, with the match scores representing how well the robots completed their tasks in relation to the other teams.
“We took scores from two matches for each team and combined those with the teamwork scores and took the three top-scoring teams as finalists. The finalists engaged in two additional matches to determine first, second and third place,” Bruton said. “The teamwork scores included the elements of listening, participation, persuading, questioning, respecting and sharing.”
In the junior division, the first-place team was from Wilson County 4-H with a Brazos County 4-H team taking second place and another team from Wilson County 4-H placing third.
In the senior division, the first-place team was from Wichita County 4-H, with New Waverly FFA and Denton County 4-H taking second and third place, respectively.
Natalie Cervantes, AgriLife Extension agent for 4-H youth development in Bexar County, said the robotics projects of 4-H statewide “are really poised to take off, based on participation.”
“It was exciting to have this contest in our county and to see the type of response it received,” Cervantes said. “We had more than twice the number of teams registered compared to last year, and I expect we’ll have even more next year.”
Cervantes said the challenge allows youth from different backgrounds but with similar interests to gather and compete.
“And this challenge is a nice fusion of technology and agriculture, so it appeals to both rural and urban youth,” she said. “And with the robotics project in general, there’s a lot that appeals to a variety of youth, especially those interested in STEM subjects. We expect to have more and more youth join the robotics project in the counties that offer them.”