Robotics club prepares for competition

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The new Madison County 4-H Robotics Club offers a unique option for kids who may have interest in building technology.

The club has been around for less than a year but has already acquired passionate members ready for their first competition.

"There are plenty of opportunities for sports and anything agricultural here in Madison County," said Julya Rebstock, who brought the club to the county. "But there didn't seem to be much for kids like mine, who have other interests outside of athletics and those sorts of things."

Rebstock discovered the Robotics program last year at the 4-H roundup and was surprised that this was an option in other near-by areas. It hadn't been in Madison County because no one had stepped up to do it, so Rebstock, who has a background in computer science, decided that it would be her.

"I've taught before," said Rebstock. "I figured that I could at least speak the language and I know a little bit about programming, so I decided to start it up."

At first, the club had around 30 people sign up and they see about 15 at the weekly meetings. Rebstock's son Caleb is the club president and Ethan Barrett is the vice president. Jayci Morris is the club's secretary, Trent Morris is the treasurer and Jayden Driggers the club's historian.

The current meetings are primarily based on prep for their first competition, which 10 members are slated to attend at the San Antonio Livestock show on Feb. 16. The competitions consist of a challenge that the kids have to solve within the three-hour time limit. With a game board presented to them, the teams have to build, design and program the robot to accomplish specific tasks. Last year, the contestants were required build a robot to retrieve food items that were provided and put them in a certain tray.

"These sorts of games require a lot of logical thinking for these kids," said Rebstock. "They obviously aren't allowed a remote control or anything like that, so they have to program this machine to go from point A to B, go forward as well as design it to grab an item."

During the meetings, the club uses 'EV3 robots' from LEGO Education to practice for their competition. They have taped mock game boards on the ground to simulate the challenges that will be presented in San Antonio.

Rebstock is focusing on teaching the kids programming and finding a way to build their bots in less than half an hour. At the competition, they will have just one hour to design and build, so she wants them to be prepared for the competitive environment.

The club also has their eyes on a competition at the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo, but they hope to grow from there and graduate to new programs beyond the 'EV3' as the kids learn more and more.

"There are all kinds of stuff you can do with these robots," said Rebstock. "Understanding them can lead to all sorts of opportunities."

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