Robotics team competes for 1st time together

Published 8:22 pm Monday, November 6, 2017

A budding LEGO robotics team in Washington took home the first-place award for its robot design at a statewide competition this weekend.

The Gizmo Guys, a group of six homeschool students plus advisers Mike McClure and Jessica Yoder, traveled to the North Carolina First LEGO League Qualifying Tournament in Greenville on Saturday after meeting for practice three times a week for the past 12 weeks.

As part of the challenge, each team must design robots and then program them to perform certain tasks. This year’s theme is Hydro Dynamics — how to find, use, transport and dispose of water.

“They have to design all those things themselves and create. When they go to the competition, there’ll be like 100 different ways they drop a bottle, and there’ll be 20 different ways they flush a toilet,” Yoder explained.

Another aspect of the competition is a project to select a water-related issue and then offer a solution. For this, the Gizmo Guys enlisted the help of the City of Washington Public Works Department, visiting the water treatment and wastewater treatment plants.

Yoder said the team members noticed both plants have to deal with the prospect of a potential generator failure. Upon further research, the Gizmo Guys discovered the prospect of water turbines in the piping for another source of energy. The group then researched more cost-effective options for use in the Washington setting.

“They really wanted to find something that was local,” Yoder said. “The public works people were awesome. They gave us these incredible tours that we learned so much. It’s amazing. You know, you flush your toilet and you don’t think about it anymore.”

Yoder said the First LEGO League also stresses a series of core values: teamwork, friendly competition, discovery, sharing experiences and more.

The Gizmo Guys team includes: Tomi Schuman, 11; Jomei Schuman, 12; Hudson Massengill, 11; Gavin Yoder, 11; Ethan Yoder, 13; and Wyatt Renfrow, 11.

“I like the engineering part where we get to build stuff,” said Jomei Schuman, who is considering a career in engineering one day.

Tomi Schuman recalled one of his favorite activities with the team: “Since our robots don’t have eyes, we had to work together, and we blindfolded Mrs. Jessica, and we told her to walk forward, grab a butter knife and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

The team was excited and understandably nervous moving into Saturday’s competition, but the students were proud of how it went. Yoder said the Gizmo Guys team hopes to start in May next year to have more time for preparation.

“Our team is open. We can have a total of like 12 kids. Next year, hopefully, we’ll maybe add some more kids,” Yoder said.

PRACTICING: Jomei Schuman, one of the Gizmo Guys, practices with a robot as it travels across the board, and then attempts to use a lever to flush a toilet. (Caroline Hudson/Daily News)