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Robotics team wins Championship Research Award

Allen Reed, Alpcan Meek, Dylan Furman, Solomon Johnson, Ian Clark, Nathan Aguirre, Seth Garza, Jonathon Stowe, Liam Lusby and Nicholas Sargent.

During spring break, the Walnut Springs Elementary (WSE) robotics competition team brought home the First LEGO League Alamo East Region - Regional Championship Research Award for their creative ingenuity put forth towards strengthening human-animal relationships.


The team qualified to compete in the regional tournament after rising to the top against more than 200 teams at the qualifying tournament in San Antonio on Feb. 4.


Both tournaments consisted of two portions, robotic and research, that the team prepared for in advance. For the robotic portion, the team is given complex missions and objectives for their customized LEGO MindStorm robot to complete in a set timeframe.


The second portion is a research-based project. This year’s theme was “Animal Allies” and it challenged teams to solve an existing real-life problem. The solution should result in a strengthened human-animal relationship.


The problem identified by the team was the loss of law enforcement canine lives while on duty. The team noticed that a large percentage of lives were lost to either gunshot wounds or heat exhaustion. This was due to the dogs being fitted with either a cooling vest that exposed the dogs to gunshot wounds or a ballistic vest that could overheat them.


The team wanted to engineer a modular zipper-vest that both cools the dog and also provides ballistic protection. Since no such combination exists, the team needed to do research to figure out a solution.


The team shared their vest idea with experts from the field to gather advice on feasibility, safety, technological requirements, product effectiveness and cost projections. They started with the New Braunfels Police Department’s K-9 unit.


“We asked them questions about the vest and the concerns they had about their canine partners’ vulnerabilities,” said Seth Garza, a fifth-grader at WSE.


The team also reached out to a veterinarian for expert advice. “She said she liked the idea and thought it would benefit K-9 officers,” said Soloman Johnson, a fifth-grader at WSE. “She also said the cooling packet placement would be effective and safe.”


The end result was a high-tech combination of the two types of vests that utilizes a mobile rapid cooling system to recharge the cooling packets inside the vest.


They shared their solution with the NBPD K-9 unit that helped them get started.


“The officers responded very positively to our design and would definitely use it if it were available,” said Garza.


They also shared their solution with a mechanical engineer, Comal County Sheriff’s Department K-9 unit, Glacier Tech, Igloo Coolers and even the Air Force and FBI.


For their presentation at the competition, the team created mock-ups of the vest and the rapid cooling system.


Their hard work and efforts were rewarded. Out of the 58 teams present in the regional tournament, the team was one of 12 to win a championship award. This was the first time the team made it to the championships out of the three years of competing.


Next year, opportunities to join the Robotics Club and Competition Team will expand into the middle school level with one team at Walnut Springs and up to two teams at New Braunfels Middle School. Volunteers Matthew and Lisa Sargent will serve as the coaches for the teams again next year.


CAPTION: Pictured (L-R): Allen Reed, Alpcan Meek, Dylan Furman, Solomon Johnson, Ian Clark, Nathan Aguirre, Seth Garza, Jonathon Stowe, Liam Lusby and Nicholas Sargent.

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