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Echo students hope ‘Dumpsterbot’ can get them to state competition

Students learn programming, building skills in new Echo robotics program

By Jayati Ramakrishnan

East Oregonian

Published on February 8, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on February 8, 2018 9:14PM

Echo freshman Michael Dorn and Elijah Garcila work on a pulley system for a mechanical arm on their robot Thursday in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Echo freshman Michael Dorn and Elijah Garcila work on a pulley system for a mechanical arm on their robot Thursday in Hermiston.

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Echo seventh-grader Mason Murdock and Sophie Scott work together on their robot on Thursday in Echo.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Echo seventh-grader Mason Murdock and Sophie Scott work together on their robot on Thursday in Echo.

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It may be named “El Dumpsterbot,” but the students of Echo School’s robotics team hope their machine will take them in a different direction.

A group of 22 Echo middle and high schoolers will send four teams to a qualifying event in Hillsboro on Saturday, where they will compete for a spot in a state competition..

Students from the “Super Cougars” team worked on “El Dumpsterbot,” a robot that is supposed to be able to push a block back and forth, and lift a small garbage can.

The name, however, stems from somewhere else.

“Originally we had gears, and we had to cover the gears up to make sure they weren’t dangerous,” said Devlyn Wilson, an eighth-grader. “So we had cardboard over it, and it was very messy.”

As they work to finish up their projects and catch last-minute issues, the students recall how much they’ve learned in just one semester.

“I had a little experience going in, but not much,” said Joe Faulkner, a ninth-grader. He was one of a few that did, as most of the students started from scratch.

“They’ve had no experience with programming or anything,” said Don Walker, the group’s advisor. “We start with going over safety, and then once we get the challenges presented to us (for the competition), we pull the information we need to program a robot.”

Each group, comprised of five to six students, is building a robot that can perform some basic function — lifting or pushing an object, and moving back and forth. As some students worked Thursday morning on physical issues, like getting the robot’s arm to move, others huddled over computers, making sure the robot was programmed to do what it’s supposed to.

“One portion of our competition is autonomous mode,” said Luis Ibarra, an eighth-grader. “There’s a 30-second period where the robot has to move by itself, and the drivers can’t touch the controls.”

The students will program the robot to perform some task during that time, whether moving in a specific direction or pushing an object into a certain area.

Students will attempt to progress onto a statewide competition, and will be scored based on various skills.

“It’s based on what the robot can do to score points, how well the drivers can drive, and of course how we build it to make it work,” said Charlei Harwood, a builder and designer.

Students learn a variety of skills. Each team consists of programmers, builders and drivers, as well as someone to do outreach and record the process.

“I take pictures for the group and work on the engineering notebook,” said Maddie Owen, an eighth-grader. “We have to keep track of what we’re doing each day.”

Walker, a math teacher at Echo School, started the program this school year when he moved to the district after seven years as a teacher in Stanfield. He still assists Stanfield with their robotics teams.

The team has been to five local meets, competing against teams from Umatilla, Stanfield, Pendleton and Helix. All of Echo’s teams made it to the “super qualifier” event. If they advance past that, they will have a chance at state and regional events.

“The majority of them love it,” Walker said. “Their biggest challenge is figuring out ways to think critically through problems, and figure stuff out on their own.”

Ninth-grader Joe Faulkner said they had issues to smooth out before Saturday, but he was excited to put the robot into action.

“We’re trying to still get the arm working,” he said. “We’re trying to get it to the right power level, to do what we need it to do.”

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Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4534



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