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Robotics

Pictured is a robot constructed by Lakeview High School students. This is the first year students have competed in the Open Division, where more liberty is given in regard to using creativity to make the best possible contraption. 

Two Columbus schools are slated to compete in Saturday’s Lakeview Open Robotics Tournament powered by the Nebraska Public Power District.

Columbus High School is making the trek across town to attend the large-scale competition being hosted by Lakeview High School. The 42-team field is the largest that competing schools from 13 different Nebraska communities will have seen all year long, said Chad Johnson, senior education specialist at NPPD.

Prior to this year, Lakeview competed in the VEX Robotics division – where students essentially used VEX erector kits to construct robots – but opted to take a step forward by competing in the Open division, where creativity and skill-sets are heightened.

“There’s been real competitive robotics in the US for just about 20 years, and every few years a division breaks off to go in a direction,” Johnson said. “NPPD has sponsored VEX Robotics programs throughout the state for eight or nine years and then moved into the Open division because of all the innovation that’s allowed.

Robots in the Open division are constructed out of a variety of materials, including wood, plastic and pieces of old robot contraptions, Johnson said. Competing students will face a variety of robot challenges that are scored on a point system. The challenges will also pair random teams together to complete tasks to earn points, NPPD said through a released statement.

“These students build some amazing robots, and in addition to learning technical skills, the students learn about leadership, communication, and sportsmanship -- all of which are demonstrated by NPPD employees on a day-to-day basis,” NPPD Careers Outreach Specialist Kim Liebig said, through a released statement.

The number of teams competing Saturday nearly doubles the number of competitors from this year’s two previously held Open division competitions, which had 26 and 16, respectively, Johnson said. The competitions are sponsored by NPPD in partnership with Omaha’s CREATE Foundation.

Competitors on Saturday in addition to CHS and Lakview include Omaha North, Norfolk Junior High School, York Middle School, YetiBotics in Aurora, Holdrege High School, St. Paul Schools, Nebraska Christian Schools, St. Edward High School, Hampton High School, Cross County High School and Millard West High School.

Saturday’s tournament is scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m. with competition taking place throughout the day, leading up to the finals matches at roughly 3:15 p.m.

“Nebraska ranks fourth in the United States for competitive robotics teams per capita, with 466 teams competing during the 2017-18 season. We expect that number to exceed 500 this season,” Johnson said. “Competitive robotics introduces students to technical workforce skills, problem-solving, teamwork and innovation.”

NPPD sponsors the open division tournaments because of the focus on innovation and technical workforce skills including electrical engineering, he added.

This is the third of nine tournaments for the open division leading up to April’s U.S. Open Robotics Championships in Council Bluffs, Iowa -- the second largest robot tournament in the world.

Johnson, who volunteers his time with a robotics club outside of his work affiliation, said that he’s constantly flabbergasted by participants' ability to construct such high-tech contraptions that properly function.

“It’s actually amazing to see and realize how smart these middle school and high school kids are,” he said. “I actually run a robotics program in Aurora – I’m a mentor there. Those kids are so much smarter than me that I just get out of their way and let those kids go to town.”

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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