LAS CRUCES – Digit is eager, curious and weird because “being normal is overrated.”
Built by the all-girls Vista Middle School robotics team — Vista Girl Power — Digit was one of 54 robots designed by the more than 300 students who competed in the New Mexico VEX Robotics State Championship held at New Mexico State University Saturday.
Competing in the VEX IQ Challenge Championship for elementary and middle school students, Digit and his fellow robots were tasked with placing as many colored rings through vertical and horizontal sticks as it could in a minute.
Seventeen robots in this category competed for four spots to represent New Mexico in the VEX Robotics Worlds Championship in Louisville, Kentucky, in April.
Maya Ramos, a sixth-grader on the team and one of Digit’s builders, said her team stated working on the robot in October. She said the team of 12 has spent many of their lunches and Saturdays working to make Digit the best it could be.
“(We) just experimented with it and tried to make it new and creative with different sizes, Ramos said.
Nobody gives (their robot) a personality,” she said as she pointed out their robot had blue, round plastic eyes unlike most of their competitors.
To help Digit in the completion, Ramos said they added rubber bands to pull the rings into the robot without having to push a button on the remote control. She said they also expanded the base and added boundaries so the rings would not get caught on the robot.
“We also used rubber bands to hold it all together,” she said.
A second portion of the event, VEX Robotics Competition, was geared toward middle and high school teams, giving them a more difficult task. Five winners of the 37 teams from this competition would move on to worlds championship.
In this competition, the robot needed to pick up small cones and stack them on larger cones. The more cones they stacked, the more points they got. Teams would also get more points in they pushed the larger “mobile” cones into designated areas on the field. The most points came if a robot could place a mobile cone into the far corners of the field by lifting them over speed bumps and having smaller cones stacked on top of them.
Brian Acquesta, a coach and engineering teacher at Cibola High School in Albuquerque, said it is the first year the school has had team. But even so, he has seen his students grow and become more engaged.
“It’s one thing to learn about computers, than to build something and see it in person and how it functions,” Acquesta said.
Their robot, which did not have a name, unfolded from itself scooping up a large cone while carrying a smaller cone overhead.
“There are some good robots here, but I think ours can win,” Acquesta said with a smile.
This is the fifth time NMSU has hosted the annual event, which works to connect students, mentors and schools in the community with successful and engaging technology-based programs, according to itswebsite.
In holding the competitions, Corey McCoy, regional support manager, said the non-profit arm of VEX — Robotics Education & Competition Foundation — wants to prepare kids for college and the workforce.
“With the direction that things are going, everything is going to be technology-based. So, kids have to have those skills, they have to be able to work collaboratively, they have to prepare for jobs that aren’t even in existence right now,” McCoy said.
Ali Linan can be reached at 575-541-5476, email@example.com or @Ail__Linan on Twitter.