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BCMS Omega Robotics have opportunity of a lifetime
February 26, 2018
By Mike Weland

After the Boundary County Middle School Omega Robotics teams hosted the middle school district robotics championships earlier this season, just eking out a berth, they traveled to the University of Idaho for the state tournament.

Their robot brought home a trophy, but not a trip to state.

But the innovation, analytic ability and ability to think outside the box did win them a trip to state in another required robotics discipline, and this one won them the Idaho "Most Innovative Solution" award, and that project will be shown in competition in Washington, DC, early this summer.

Not just a national competition, either.

This competition is global, where the "Top 20 Solutions That Could Change the World" will be selected.

Among those in attendance at the competition will be the movers and shakers and most brilliant minds from some of the most cutting edge companies on the planet, all looking for ideas and projects.

The top 20 middle school Innovative Solution projects will go on to be developed by these companies, but every middle school project featured will be scrutinized for development potential, which could bring the schools benefits including patents and royalties ... and could bring the students who helped develop them the benefits of early corporate recognition and a fast-track to a high-power, high-tech education and career.

And the top team, in addition to all that, will get $20,000 to build up their robotics program.

According to BCMS eighth grade science teacher and robotics coach Jacob Garrison, the members of Omega robotics teams EV3 and NXT; Seth Fuller, George Balk, Kaylee McCabe, Grace Hopkins, Morgan Moon, Liliana Brinkman, Dylan McLeish, Alex Stella, Logan Cuthbertson, Brycen Cowin, Colton Hubbell, Tommy Hubbell, Joseph Carson, Avalena Martin, Cassidi Sams, Brody Becker, Cory Clairmont, Alonzo Wortley, Gunner Miller, Brady Siver, Dylan Black and Brendan Garcia, all did an amazing job as athletes representing BCMS throughout the season.

"These kids faced adversity that would have had most grownups give up and quit," Garrison said. "These students faced overwhelming odds that came close to derailing them, but their strength of character and persistence to keep trying, to never give up, got them through and paid off."

At state, someone made off with the BCMS team's USB drive with the program to drive their bot through its complex paces just hours before it was time to compete.

Without the program, the bot was little more than a pile of hardware with no brain.

Several of the BCMS Omega teams are veterans, having been involved in robotics since attending BFHS Alpha Team robotics camps while in the fourth and fifth grades, some of whom, now in the eighth grade, have built their skills to enable them to work with their high school counterparts,

George Balk
While many on the team nearly gave in to despair, one of those team leaders, eighth grader George Balk, thought he had an idea.

What makes what happened next so remarkable, Garrison said, is that, unlike other school sports, coaches are not allowed to coach while their teams prepare for and compete. In fact, the coaches aren't even allowed in the room!

"These competitions are all student-driven," coach Garrison, now in his third year, said. "I was in awe by what I saw. Our kids did an amazing, excellent job."

While other members of the team stormed through ideas to give their bot a brain, George sat down with the bot itself, remembering that it held the framework of the stolen program; not enough to run the bot, but just the edge them team could use to rewrite the remainder of the program ... if there was a way to extract the framework.

There was, and George figured it out, and with his teammates fleshed out the framework into a functioning program just in the nick of time.

Their bot didn't win a berth at state, but it did, amazingly, take third, earning a robotics trophy for the BCMS trophy case.

Also unlike most sports, robotics isn't just robots. In addition to designing and programming and testing and refining the bot, team members must also consider real-world problems, select one, and then and think of an "Innovative Real World Solution."

This year, BCMS Omega team members considered the human water cycle, how we get our water, use it for various things from drinking and cooking to washing clothes to flushing our waste away for treatment.

While it seems there's an incredible amount of water on our beautiful blue planet, there is actually only a finite amount; the refreshingly cold water molecules that that landed on your tongue when you stopped for a quick sip at the water fountain were the very same ones that brontosaurs waded in and drank aeons ago, and those joined atoms of H2O were ancient even then.

What the BCMS Omega teams wrapped their intellects around was the forms water takes. You can't splash all forms of water on your face, you can't drink it in all forms, you can't even use all forms of it to put the cold in cold drinks!

We are, they realized, surrounded by water all the time -- water vapor. Visible as fog or the mist on the mountains, the vast majority of water vapor can't be seen or even felt. And yet, in the atmosphere that envelopes the Earth, there is an astounding 37.5 million billion gallons of water, enough, if it all precipitated out at once, to cover the entire surface of the Earth, land and ocean, with one inch of rain.

With this insight, BCMS Omega Robotics did some serious analysis and number crunching and developed a fog catcher.

They took the concept from a broad idea to a specific design in a specific place; the Seattle Space Needle to be exact, and a special mesh that could be draped about the edifice without taking away from the landmark's utility to collect fog -- water vapor -- collect it and make it available to people for non-potable use; for washing dishes, flushing toilets, washing clothes.

When the numbers were crunched and all the factors considered, their fog catcher could yield a whopping 1,600 gallons on water for human use per day, and with the added benefit of delivering it without the need of pumping -- no electricity or fuel required.

The Omega teams worked feverishly to develop a display through which to convey their ideas. It had to stand on its own -- none of the students could be on hand to explain details or answer questions. At the district competition in their own halls, they won, but barely. While the idea and the facts and figures were deemed worthy, the display wasn't quite up to the desired standard.

Instead of giving up, Omega athletes buckled down, and in three weeks before the UofI competition, they completely rethought and rebuilt their display, and it was a marvel. It easily won the northern Idaho competition, and it was packed up and shipped to go one-on-one with the winning southern Idaho entry, where it was chosen to represent Idaho in the upcoming global showdown in our nation's capitol.

While they don't have to accompany their "Real World Solution" to Washington, up to five Omega team members and two adults have been invited.

Coach Garrison has barely had time to assimilate news of the opportunity, let alone figure out what could make such an amazing dream come true, but the one thing for certain is that it will take money, and the robotics program is one that is not funded by the school district. Everything these students have accomplished by support from the community.

While no one at BCMS or on the team is asking for more help, it would seem a shame to deny the small group such an amazing opportunity, and if donations marked for BCMS Omega Robotics Innovative Solutions were to suddenly begin arriving at the BCMS office or turning up in the BCMS mail, 6577 Main Street, Bonners Ferry ID 83805, staff would have little choice, for the time being, anyway, but to hang on to them to see if, perchance, such a trip is within the realm of possibility.
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