KAYSVILLE - Hundreds of high school robot inventors gathered Saturday at Davis High School with one goal in mind -- to earn enough points in competition for their creations to qualify for a spot in the state VEX Robotics Championships to be held at Utah State University in February.
Forty-two teams were on hand with their hand-built robots, competing in the arena by picking up balls and depositing them into several tubes.
Teams from all over the region attended, including schools from Idaho and Wyoming, with many schools boasting several teams per school. Schools from Top of Utah included Layton, Davis, Mountain Crest, Sky View, and Two Rivers High Schools, USU Design Academy, South Cache 8 - 9 Center, NUAMES, and a one-man team from South Clearfield Elementary.
Fifth-grader Logan Frost has been watching his dad coach the VEX Robotics team at Syracuse High School for the last four years, thinking he would have to wait until high school to create his own robot. However, Logan heard about a robotics scouting merit badge, so he quickly got into game, learned how to build the robot and program it to move correctly, which Logan says he learned from watching YouTube videos.
His dad, Justin Frost, the engineering teacher at Syracuse High, who mentors the VEX Robotics team at Syracuse High, has been coaching his son.
"This is something we never expected. We just thought he would finish his merit badge and move on, but holy cow, he's here now competing against high school kids, and he's doing well," said Justin Frost.
He said his son made it to the semi-finals at the last two competitions he was in. "You look at his robot, and it's very plain and simple and can't do fancy stuff, but it works and he scores with the best of them."
"When I finished the merit badge, I just wanted to keep doing it," said Logan Frost.
VEX Robotics landed itself in Utah about five years ago, breaking away from the FIRST Robotics Competition. Two years ago, Utah was the fastest growing region in the VEX program, with the highest number of competitions in the region based on the number of robotic teams, according to Gary Stewardson, USU associate professor in Technology and Engineering Education.
Five years ago, one of Stewardson's graduate students approached him about the idea of starting up the VEX Robotics Program for students. Stewardson's first thought was "not another program." He said there were already enough technology programs offered to students in Top of Utah.
However, when he started noticing how teams had a good sense of strategy in the game by cooperating together, he realized the educational value of the sport.
"The main focus is to have kids learn how to design, be creative, apply science principals, and learn how to program, so for certain kids, this is a fantastic learning advantage," said Stewardson.
For Isaac Hamblin, a junior at Two Rivers High School in Ogden, it has been a challenging and rewarding sport. "I like how there are so many facets that go into building the robot, and every decision you make goes into completing a specific goal."
Getting their robots to deliver small four-inch-sized balls into the appropriate tubes around the small square arena takes more than just skill. Hamblin said his team has a few strategies they are saving for when they compete at the state competition at USU.
Davis High technology teacher Dane Leifson enjoys the passion the students bring to the event.
"This is all about nerdtastic synergy because these kids have literally spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours working tirelessly to get these robots to do amazing things," said Leifson. "To watch them pursue their passion and seeing their abilities develop is what really makes it worthwhile for me."