Clovis robotics team going to World Festival

The Fresno BeeFebruary 17, 2014 

The Hand of Poseidon robotics team from Alta Sierra Intermediate School in Clovis will head to St. Louis in April to compete against 70 teams from around the globe.

The team, made up of seventh- and eighth-graders, beat 120 teams in the Fresno and Clovis area in a regional competition in November, said coach Eric Person, whose son is on the team. The team will be the only one to represent the Valley at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival scheduled for April 23-26. Team members are Jacob Baker, Jacob Gray, Ben Le, Ben Person, Jenna Clenney, Amanda Puente and Zachary Pascual.

The team is in its first year together, but that is easily disguised by their cohesiveness and familiarity with one another. Each team member already has experience in robotics — some members began working on robotics in elementary school. Team members play Clash of Clans, a combat strategy game, and each member has a Rubik's Cube.

This year's competition theme was "Nature's Fury." Each team had to build a robot that combats problems produced by a natural disaster, like roadway obstacles, displaced people and safety hazards. The second part of the challenge is to create some kind of design keyed to the theme, and in the final section of the competition the team is judged on how well members work together to solve problems.

With the April competition nearing, team members are working on perfecting their robot strategy.

"Right now we're just focusing on improving our robot and practicing switching out attachments for the game at the World Festival," Ben Person said as the team's robot corralled Lego people into a designated area at a weekly practice.

Hand of Poseidon chose to focus on a tsunami for its project this season. Team members provided solutions to prepare, survive and recover from a tsunami.

Greek mythology inspired the project and the team's name. It is based on the giant wave that washed away the Persians in 479 B.C. while they were attacking the Greeks in Potidaea. The Greeks attributed the event to Poseidon, thus the team name "Hand of Poseidon."

For the regional competition, Hand of Poseidon created a wave tank based on a pulley system and ground displacement that emulates the ocean to demonstrate how a tsunami works. The team also created a model hotel that could withstand such a catastrophe. The model, in the shape of a football and supported by pillars so water could flow around and under the base, would house a medical clinic, conference rooms, a helicopter pad and an atrium to let in natural light in case of a power outage. The team's robot, made mostly of Legos, removes tree branches from telephone wires, collects Lego people in a central location and clears debris from roadways.

Team members took it upon themselves to learn computer-aided design (CAD) to create a more precise hotel model, team members Ben Le and Jenna Clenney explained. They talked to Fresno State professor Lloyd Crask about the architecture and design of the building and made modifications based on his suggestions.

"This is high school and college-level stuff," Le said.

Person said the team took on the challenge of learning CAD, even after he tried to dissuade them from doing so. He said more advanced teams use CAD, and he wasn't too familiar with the software himself.

"They wanted to learn it and get ahead since a lot of high school teams use it," he said. "Sometimes the coach is challenged, too, and has to chase behind the kids."

During the competition, the team excelled in a category called "core values." Core values emphasizes teamwork, finding solutions, friendly competition and similar principles. In this category, the team is given a problem and has just a few minutes to solve it. The judges base their scores on the amount of collaboration, participation of all team members and contribution of ideas.

The team is trying to round up sponsors to fund the St. Louis trip. Hand of Poseidon will continue to meet twice a week until April to strategize for the robot challenge and perfect the design of its hotel model.

"This is high school and college-level stuff." — Ben Le, team member

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6679 or bvaccari@fresnobee.com.

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