Powell robotics team heading to national competition

Powell Middle School Black and Orange Storm team members demonstrate how their robot, which they built and programmed, performs on a board game. The students won the state championship and are raising money to go to the national competition. From left are Isaac Stensing, Luke Legler, Kenan Lind, Sam Lind, Dallin Waite, Alan Crawford and Dexter Opps. (Photo by Kevin Killough, Powell Tribune)

POWELL — Students in the Robotics Club at Powell Middle School are blazing past the competition this year, and one team has been selected to represent the whole state in a global competition. 

The middle school robotics team, Black and Orange Storm, took the Champion’s Award on Dec. 7, at the FIRST Lego League Wyoming State Championship in Casper. That drew an invite to represent Wyoming at the World Festival in Houston, Texas, in April.

The team estimates the trip will cost about $10,000 for all nine members, and so the team members are busy coming up with fundraising ideas — including asking local businesses to sponsor their trip. 

The stormers also took first place in the Robot Performance Award while Power House, another PMS team, took first place for the Innovation Solution Award. 

The club is sponsored by Zac Opps, computer science instructor at PMS, and is comprised of a number of teams.

The Lego League has different themes every year, and this year the theme was City Shaper. The projects sought innovative and creative approaches to addressing various problems within a city, such as transportation, environment and accessibility. 

The students were presented with the challenge of identifying a problem within their own communities, researching the problem and developing and refining a solution. They also designed, built and programmed a robot to execute tasks on a board that simulated engineering challenges in an urban environment. The tasks involved picking up, transporting and delivering objects in various missions, with teams awarded points based on how well they carried out a mission. It was in this competition that Black and Orange Storm took the first place Robotics Performance Award. 

For the innovation project, the stormers looked at ways to reuse the sand that the city spreads on roadways when there’s snow and ice. 

“It was raining and snowing at the time [they brainstormed ideas], so it was something we were thinking about,” said Black and Orange Storm team member Kenan Lind. 

What they discovered through their research is that cities often use salt and chemicals, which aren’t always great for the environment. After talking to Powell Streets Superintendent Gary Butts, however, they learned Powell crews use mostly sand, and it doesn’t get reused. Instead, the city sweeps it up and uses it for landfill cover.

“It gets ground down and they can’t use it again,” said Luke Legler, who is also a stormer. 

For their innovative solution, the kids are considering how the used sand can be filtered and applied for traction on hiking trails. 

Power House’s innovation project, for which they won a first place award, addressed the problem of lead poisoning with a project called Put Lead to Bed, inspired by the problems Flint, Michigan, had in 2014 with the city’s water system. Through their research the team discovered lead leaches through corrosive water pipes, and small towns can’t raise the revenue to replace all their old lead pipes. 

The students got in touch with Powell’s water superintendent, Ty McConnell, and after talking to him, they developed an idea for a sealant that could be sprayed inside the pipe with a robot. The non-toxic sealant will create a barrier between the corrosive water and the lead pipes. 

“Hopefully, science will soon catch up with the revolutionary idea and the Power House can find a new way to help small towns with the lethal lead pipes,” said Power House team member Emma Johnson. 

Last year, the stormers were called the Pink and Fluffy Unicorns. It was a name team member Salem Brown wanted to stick with this year. However, the other students wanted a name that’s a bit more stormy, so the unicorns became the Black and Orange Storm. 

The team did win the inspiration award last year, but that success pales in comparison to what they achieved this year. 

“We won a real award this time,” said Brown, who did a lot of research into this year’s innovation project. 

Brown didn’t have a driving passion for robotics when she first got into the club several years ago, but her interest has held ever since. 

“I sat down at the table and they let me in,” she said of how it all began. 

Most of the members have been in the club and known each other for a long time. 

The stormers didn’t go to the Casper competition expecting to do so well; they were just having fun at the projects. When the announcement came that the Powell students had taken the Champion’s Award, they were floored. 

“I really wasn’t expecting it. When they called us onto the stage, I was completely shocked,“ said stormer Alan Crawford. 

There are other teams in the club, including the Rovengers and Chicken Nugget Tribe, and while they didn’t win any awards at the competition in Casper, the students are still getting a lot out of their experience. 

“I chose to join the robots team because I did robotics in elementary school and I thought I could learn a lot from the experience,” said Isabelle Lobingier, who’s on the Rovenger team. 

The seventh-grader said her continued participation has allowed her to improve her skills and make new friends. 

For Johnson, an eighth-grader with the Power House team, the best part of the experience is the sense of accomplishment. 

“The thing that I like most about robotics is that seeing how far you’ve come,” she said before they went to the state competition. ”The team itself has gone through so many changes and I really have enjoyed watching it develop.” 

Any individuals or businesses who would like to sponsor the Black and Orange Storm’s trip to Houston for the global robotics competition can contact Opps at PMS.