Moses Lake Girl Scouts make a robot

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Two members of the RoboGirls work on a robot for the First Lego League competition.

MOSES LAKE - Carol Hohn is enthusiastic about the 10-member RoboGirls team.

"I think there is something I can think of for each of the kids where they did something fabulous,"  said Hohn, coach and a Girl Scout troop leader. "I love the fact that we had so many ages involved. We literally started with 8-years-old and they went all the way to 14-years-old."

This is the third year the RoboGirls team competed in the First Lego League competition. The program is an international organization with a science-themed competition each year, stated Anne Henning, a parent of one of the girls in the competition. This year's theme was Food Factor, and the girls were asked to research food from production to preparation.

The competitors were asked to investigate their food and find a way to improve its safe delivery, according to the league's website. 

The Moses Lake team, made up of members of the Girl Scout Troop 1238, started their project in September. A trip to National Frozen Foods gave the girls an idea for their project: trying to figure out ways to detect glass in food.

"We went to National and they showed the girls how they detect things in the corn. They have a machine to detect foreign objects, and they said the one thing they cannot detect is glass," Hohn said. "They told us at National Frozen Foods the primary cause of glass contamination was drink bottles ... so when they're going to harvest corn fields along roads people walk 10 to 15 feet in looking for glass."

The information caught the girl's imagination, and led to more research, she said. They took field trips to Evergreen Implement, the Moses Lake Clinic and a local farmer for more information.

The girls' ideas for solving the issue included adding color to the glass, so it could be detected easier, putting fencing around the fields and adding something to the glass that would allow it to become fluorescent when it was hit by certain types of light, Henning said

"They came up with several great ideas," Hohn said. "One of the core values we have as coaches is we don't know all the answers, but we'll learn ... Even the parents didn't realize some of the issues that we discovered ... We live in such a great community. It's really fun to learn and to know we have the resources around here."

The other part of the competition involved building a robot with Legos and programming it to perform certain tasks. The girls had a list of about 16 possible tasks they could accomplish with the robot. Hohn said the author of the challenge wanted to add tasks this year to make it more challenging for some of the more experienced teams.

The competitors can only touch the robot when it's in the "base." Otherwise, they need to rely on the programming they created for the robot.

"I was really surprised about how precise you have to be," Henning said. "If you don't have it all lined up exactly right then you're off by a few inches and you miss your target."

The hard part of the competition is the game, Hohn said. The girls need to know how to design the robot, but they also need to figure out the planning and programming.

"It's a little complicated, but the girls handle it really well, and they come up with really ingenious ways to fix the problem and complete the task," she said.

The girls chose to have the robot drop a model of a combine to make a piece of corn fall off on to the table, she said. They also dragged a pick up truck filled with groceries back to the base, and then loaded the robot with the groceries so it could be dropped off on the table.

"Those were the ones they thought were the most achievable," Henning said. "(My daughter) thought it was really cool to do stuff with robots. It's awesome to see girls get excited about science and engineering."

The girls made the event more challenging for themselves, Hohn said. In previous years, they had the robot complete each task and return to the base.

"This year, the challenge was to do multiple things when they were out there," she said. "I was really pleased that they tried to do two or three things when they were outside of the base."

They spent at least four hours every Saturday working on the project leading up to the competition, Hohn said. The team also put in more time during holidays from school.

The girls showed off what they learned at two competitions. They would go into a room with the judges, present their research project, present their robot and do an exercise on the core values of the program. They finished second in the regional competition in Tri-Cities against 19 other teams, and won the Inspiration trophy when they competed at the state competition earlier in the month.

The Inspiration trophy is an award for the team which works together the best, Hohn said.

"The girls did a great job and I'm so proud of them," she said. "They work really well together as a team. Everybody gets to be part of the team, and there were a lot of girls. Most of the teams we saw were six or seven people and we had 10."

The team plans to continue competing next year. The theme, "Senior Connections," has been released and the girls who are able to continue competing are excited, Hohn said. Some of the members who aren't eligible to continue competing plan to join a similar robotics team at Moses Lake High School.

The RoboGirls team stands at a practice table with a coach.

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