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4-H team is building and programming a robot for competition

Photos by Tom Rivers: Jack Finley of Albion and his teammates work on the base of their robot during a work session on Tuesday evening at BCA Ag Technologies shop on Route 31A. Dan Squire of Medina is at right, Jacob Draper is at left, and Lance Moyer of Gaines is second from left with the ruler.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 25 January 2019 at 10:12 am

Jace Conn, a senior at Albion, is making an attachment for the robot to pick up panel hatches. Conn, who wants to study electrical engineering in college, said it’s a lot of trial and error to get the attachment designed to work properly.

ALBION – A group of nine 4-H’ers are designing parts, measuring and cutting metal, running wires and putting in electronics for a robot that will perform a series of tasks.

This is the eighth year the 4-H’ers from Orleans County are competing in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). There aren’t many robotics teams from rural areas. They will be up against about 50 teams on March 14-16 during a competition at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

They started building their robot about three weeks ago when they opened a box with a pile of parts. They need to build the robot and program it to go to specific spots on a space about the size of a basketball court. They will program the robot to move forward and backward, sideways and diagonally.

Each team gets about six weeks to build the robot. On Feb. 19, all of the teams have to stop work. The robot needs to be sidelined until the competition.

The robot will have attachments to pick up balls and hatches with a circular opening. The balls will be dropped through the hatches.

This year the theme is “Destination Deep Space,” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing on July 20, 1969. The course for the FIRST challenge will include replicas of cargo ships and rockets, and the robots need to complete challenges with those elements.

The team has three main mentors – Erik Seielstad, Jody Neal and Jason Foote – as well as other assistants.

Seielstad has been with the program since it started. He works as a systems engineer with computers for Kodak Alaris, a spinoff of Kodak. His son Morgan, now 22, was part of the team in the beginning. Morgan recently graduated from college with a degree in computer programming. Some of the past members of the team are pursuing engineering degrees in college. One is also studying to be a pharmacist.

Jacob Foote, an Albion ninth-grader, is at work on Tuesday.

Seielstad said the kids do the work, with the mentors providing some guidance.

Zachary Neal, an eighth-grader on the team, stands next to last year’s robot. It has a lift to perform some of the tall tasks.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said, explaining why he has stayed involved in the program.

It is also a relatively short-term commitment, with the teams building the robots over six weeks, and then having the three-day competition at RIT.

The team gets together three to four times a week. The Orleans team is unusual because it isn’t connected to a school district. Most of the programs are through school districts, with paid staff leading the teams.

The Orleans team has team members from at least three different school districts, and is led by volunteers.

It costs about $15,000 to run the program – to buy the robot and pay the competition entry fees. Xerox in Rochester and Baxter Healthcare in Medina have been the main sponsors for the program. BCA Ag Technologies allows the team to use its facility on Route 31A to build the robot.

The FIRST program is in its 15th year, and has a goal of helping to develop leaders in science and technology.

All of the teams have names, and the Orleans team initially was known as “Joe’s Average Slackers.” But team members decided to rebrand the program to “Hardwired” last year.

Seielstad said some of the team members didn’t like calling themselves “slackers” because of all the work, commitment and skills needed to build the robot and get it to complete the challenges.

Jack Finley, 17, of Albion has been with the program for several years, starting with the First Lego League in elementary school. Students in the FLL build a robot through Legos and program it to do many tasks.

Finley likes the current program better because he said the equipment is higher quality and the robot can be programmed to do very specific tasks. He is looking to pursue a career in a technology field.

These team members are at work on their robot. From left include Dan Squires, Jacob Draper, Jace Conn, Zachary Neal and Jayden Neal.

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