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For Utah students, robots become teachers

(Ray Boone/KSL-TV)

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OGDEN — In the Information Age, it only makes sense that kids would use technology to compete against one another. At the FIRST Tech Challenge, the competition is all about robots.

"The environment, the quality, the high speed — it's overwhelming your very first year," said organizer Justin Hart.

These mechanized beasts take over their lives; many of the competitors have spent months with their teams, designing and building robots.

"Five months now," said competitor Tyler Moyes. "I did it because I'm really interested in STEM stuff, so when I heard that we would have to program it, I joined the team, and I'm the main programmer on it."

An empty gym at Weber State University was packed with budding builders, each with their eyes set on victory. Their goal? To move scattered blocks and plastic balls into a specific zone, and climb their robots as high as possible up a small ladder.

"These students, this becomes their life," Hart said.

And as with life, you can't do it all alone.

"I've really learned how to agree with people," Moyes said. "When we very first started, everyone was kind of on their own page of 'Let's do this.' But now I think we've all come together to more of "Let's do this, or modify it this way.'"

"They can learn to troubleshoot, learn on the fly and just think on their feet," Hart said.

The students have spent months teaching their robots, but here, the robots become the teachers. You could say it's a training course for life, because for many of these kids, their robots simply don't work as planned.

"Unbelievably," Moyes said. "It has been a struggle since this competition … it didn't even work last night."

"What's going on?" asked Garth Maddock, expressing the frustration many competitors felt. "Is it plugged in right?"

"This is a great representation of how life works," Hart said. "You have your ups and your downs, sometimes things work out, sometimes things don't."

Sometimes in life, your robot climbs to the heavens, and the crowd erupts. Other times, your robot sits silently and gets smashed by the other guy.

In the end, this competition isn't about robots at all, it's about life.

"It's all what you take from, what you learned from it," said Hart.


Ray Boone


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