Robot wranglers unite

Taos sends 22 teams to RoboRAVE International competition

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R2D2 and C-3P0 look out. Taos robot makers from elementary school grades on up are on the rise.

Four Taos schools - Anansi Charter School, Taos Charter School, Taos Academy and Ranchos Elementary - sent 22 teams and four coaches to the RoboRAVE International competition held Friday to Sunday, May 11-13 in Albuquerque this year. New Mexico-born, this worldwide robotics competition now includes 45 countries.

Two local teams barely missed the tournament round, according to Anansi Charter School's enhancement teacher Liana Bayles.

"Two teams got to ninth place this year. This is the first year I've seen other Taos schools there, so it's really good." This is the sixth year Bayles has entered the competition.

Anansi seventh-grader Cyrus Cameron said he and Aiden Besser came in second last year in the "alpine challenge." This year they entered the "sumo bot," where two or more robots push each other off a mat platform much like sumo wrestlers.

"It was pretty fun. I want to go into electronics because I think I could make robots that could help people," Cameron said, adding he was impressed by the Afghani team who created a grain cutter-sifter-baler bot that uses, among other technology, solar power. The farm technology emerged from the desire to relieve fathers and families of this traditional task, and to allow many more students to stay in school during harvest season.

"I enjoy taking students to RoboRAVE because the format of the event creates an authentic challenge that engages the students in engineering and programming," Bayles said. "The kids put in a lot of time planning, building, problem-solving, programming and ultimately competing. The event can be super stressful and also very exciting. Every year we come away having grown just a little bit more in robotics and always wanting to return."

RoboRAVE International is a worldwide robotics competition for teams of kids, ages 8 to adults, to test their design in one or more events. According to roborave.org, it started in New Mexico in 2001 as NM RoboRAVE. Santa Fe Indian School teacher Smokey Trujillo coined the acronym R.A.V.E., for Robots Are Very Educational. The name was changed to RoboRAVE International in 2004 when other countries opted-in. This year 45 countries competed, including newest contender Afghanistan.

Taos Charter School mom Chrissy Streit accompanied their four teams and coach, sixth-grade teacher Sally Greywolf to RoboRAVE on Friday and Saturday (May 11 and 12). Besides the incredible tech and creativity, Streit said she was impressed with the international mixer Friday evening. "All the students met other kids from all over the world: China, Columbia, Japan, Argentina. It was so cool."

This was the first time Taos Charter School entered RoboRAVE. Streit said Greywolf put together a pilot program this year to buy the equipment to build the robots and donated all her time for the after-school robotics club she started.

Ranchos de Taos was also a RoboRAVE first-timer, according to Ranchos teacher and after-school Robotics Club coach Mari Chávez.

"The whole tech part was just great," Chávez said, adding that the exposure to foreign students was especially engaging. "Seven of my students have Spanish as a first language, and it was so neat that they were translating for the Columbian team. The kids now see themselves as students who do computing technology like the rest of the kids in the world."

RoboRAVE International will be held in China next year, followed by Japan, Mexico and Spain in succeeding years.

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