Estella Olivares, a fifth-grader at Las Palmas Elementary (left), and the VEX World Robotics team practice maneuvering a robot they will take to Louisville, Kentucky for the VEX World Championships for scholastic robotics competition in April. Photo: Eric Heinz
Estella Olivares, a fifth-grader at Las Palmas Elementary (left), and the VEX World Robotics team practice maneuvering a robot they will take to Louisville, Kentucky for the VEX World Championships for scholastic robotics competition in April. Photo: Eric Heinz

By Evan Da Silva

A group of handy fourth- and fifth-graders from Las Palmas Elementary School will head to Louisville, Kentucky, in April to participate in the VEX World Championships, a competition that brings together top school robotics teams from around the world to celebrate and showcase their skills.

The event, which runs from April 20 to 23, will host more than 1,000 teams, with participants from middle school to college being represented.

“I’m excited to see the other robots and how they work and see if we can improve ours,” said fourth-grader Josiah Armstrong. “I’m also really excited to see the Kentucky Fried Chicken museum.”

Formed four years ago as a pilot program from event coordinators, VEX Robotics, the Las Palmas Elementary School robotics team, allows students to build a robot, program it to work autonomously, create a design notebook to log all modifications made to their robot over time and to produce a STEM project in which students research any science, technology, engineering or mathematics topic.

“The team this year is made up of 15 students,” said Paola Paz Soldan, a Las Palmas teacher and head of the robotics team. “All students have a job, whether it’s to drive, to program the robot, fix the robot like a mechanic or to present in front of a panel of judges. One of our judges this year at a competition was an engineer of the Mars rover.”

The students, who have been working on their robot for the competition since late January, are in the process of finalizing their design. Their focus for this year’s competition is to create robotic hands to explore how robotics can improve the quality of life for humans. At the world championships, the team’s robot will be graded on how well it can pick up, store and transfer balls in addition to driving up and parking on a ramp. Each action completed has varying value.

“There’s a mathematical component to this as well,” Paz Soldan said. “The kids also have to understand priority. Should I try and get five balls in for a point each or try to park the robot (in a specific location) for 10 points with only three seconds left? It’s a huge team effort.”

Fundraising for the team is underway for the $850 robot entry fee and travel costs for each person ($600–$700 each). A GoFundMe page has been set up with a goal of $10,000, which would allow every student and a few family members to travel to the competition. To make a donation and more information on the team, visit www.gofundme.com/fcunqpvj.

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