by Roger Walk
Chesterfield County Public Library “Libobot” team located at the Central Library competed in their first robotic challenge against 40 Virginian school teams at the packed St. Christopher school arena to qualify for the FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge) 2013-2014 Central Virginia State Championship in March.
On Saturday, Dec. 7, the team of 13 boys and one girl interested in robotics and aged 11 to 13 from Chesterfield and Powhatan middle schools as well as home-schooled students, formed a robotics team at the Central Library’s “Maker Space.”
A few months ago the team designed and built a highly specialized robot to compete. Josiah Miller, who had already contributed to the Lego league robotics two years ago, had heard about the Maker Space from his friend Ethan, who told him that kids can do cool technical stuff at the library with the help from an accomplished scientist. So he and his friend joined the team and started building a robot for the FTC competitions.
The library sponsors, coaches and supports the team by providing resources such as space, guidance and supervision, as well as equipment such as a 3D printer and computers.
The robotics activities provide young people with the opportunity to apply their mathematics, engineering, and science skills in creative ways while fostering healthy competition, collaboration, and respect for team members.
The library has partnered with the FIRST Virginia organization that organizes the State-wide annual robotics challenges. The startup materials for the bots are part of the package that is provided by the FIRST organization and sponsored by North American Rockwell and Northrop Grumman.
Dr. Bruce Davies, retired Altria Client Services scientist and library volunteer, found open ears and hands at the Chesterfield Public library in April 2013 for the idea to create and maintain a “Maker Space” laboratory to foster hands-on science and technology for kids at the library. Since then he and the kids designed, built, tested, re-designed and rebuilt the Libobot for the big tournament.
On Saturday, the first FTC challenge was on. The team members in their blue t-shirts squirmed around the “pit” table in the St. Christopher arena to tune their Libobot for its best performance in the complicated tasks it was about to perform under the remote control of three competition team members. In several parallel arenas the creations of the 40 competing teams were working hard to collect and deliver yellow blocks into boxes while mastering obstacles and the blocking maneuvers of other competitors at the same time. The large crowd of other students and parents provided the stimulating atmosphere of a major sports event.
At the end of the qualifier rounds, the Libobot had shown respectable accomplishments of the tasks, but did not qualify for this year’s Central VA State Championship. Josiah and his friends are now planning to use the experience they learned from this first competition for new robotics challenges next year. The learning lab is open to interested teens, on Wednesdays and numerous Saturdays, who would like to join the fun for another first FIRST challenge to come.