San Jon teams top robotics competition

By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun

San Jon’s robotics teams earned first- and second-place finishes at the Inaugural Regional Botball tournament in Las Cruces.

Eight teams competed on March 20 in the New Mexico Regional Botball Tournament, including two teams from San Jon High School.

San Jon has 11 students on its robotics team, but because of a conflict with sporting schedules only four members — two for each team — were able to travel to Las Cruces.

“We had a lot of fun at the tournament,” said team member Skyler Sandoval.

The tournament took place at the James B. Delameter Activity Center on the New Mexico State University campus in Las Cruces.

Sandoval said the tournament places teams against each other trying to beat the clock and earn the most points.

“The robots are pre-programed with functions and are activated by light sensors,” Sandoval said.

Tasks include placing sponges over an oil slick and moving rubber ducks from one area to another, said team member T.J. Evans.

“You program the robots before the tournament,” Evans said. “Once the tournament begins the judges activate a light, which triggers the light sensor on the robot to start your program.”

Evans said the entire team has learned how to program the robot.

“Everyone needs to be able to program,” said team member Matthew Evans, “in case someone is sick or can’t make a tournament.”

Botball tournaments give students an opportunity to design, build, program and document robots, according to the Botball Web Site. Students use science, engineering, technology, math, and writing skills in a hands-on project that reinforces their learning.

Teams entering the tournaments purchase the robots, which cost $2,500.

“The team received a full and partial scholarship, which helped with the cost of the equipment,” said T.J. Evans.

Botball has several big-name sponsors including NASA, IRobot and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C.

“This has given the students such a big boost and exposed them to a new world of technology,” said team mentor Morisa Evans.

Evans said in addition to programing, the students must keep a video journal of their progress in building and programing. She said an experience like this will give the students a leg up if they choose to continue in the field of robotics after high school.

“I am planning on becoming an aerospace engineer,” said team member Barton Bone. “This program has really helped me out a lot.”

Bone, a senior at San Jon, said he has had an opportunity to meet and speak with several people that work with NASA. He said the botball program has helped to open a door for his future.

Next the team is planning a series of events to raise money to attend the 2010 Global Conference on Educational Robotics in St. Louis in July.