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Legorobotics is a party. That’s the first thing you’ll notice when you walk through the doors at Centennial Hall Convention Center at the annual Juneau Robot Jamboree.
Juneau’s next generation of tech leaders learn early at Robot Jamboree 121317 AE 1 Kevin Gullufsen, Juneau Empire Legorobotics is a party. That’s the first thing you’ll notice when you walk through the doors at Centennial Hall Convention Center at the annual Juneau Robot Jamboree.

A team watches as their robot performs small tasks during a competition at the Juneau Robot Jamboree at Centennial Hall Convention Center on Saturday. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)


Members of team Prickles, of Skagway, go over scoring with a Juneau Robot Jamboree judge at the robot game on Saturday at Centennial Hall Convention Center. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)


Two competitors in the Juneau Robot Jamboree react to an uncooperative robot at Centennial Hall Convention Center on Saturday. (Kevin Gullufsen | Juneau Empire)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Story last updated at 12/13/2017 - 4:29 pm

Juneau’s next generation of tech leaders learn early at Robot Jamboree

Legorobotics is a party. That’s the first thing you’ll notice when you walk through the doors at Centennial Hall Convention Center at the annual Juneau Robot Jamboree.

The attire is festive. Each team wore colorful, self-designed t-shirts. Some sported a team hairstyle, like the Prickles, a Skagway team whose girls put their hair up in dual buns. Team Happy Dave, a homeschool team from Juneau who won the “Robot Performance” award, donned top hats. A pinstriped judge topped her outfit with an electric blue wig.

Pop hits like Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” blared over the competition main stage, where two teams compete on pairs of 8-by-4 foot robotics competition tables, surrounded by stands for parents to take video. A Boy Scout team on one of the stands danced to the song “Harlem Shake.” Several of them did the “Bernie,” wiggling their arms at their sides while looking up at the ceiling.

Twenty-three teams from across Southeast showed up for the annual competition this year, organizer Rebecca Soza said, a good chunk of the 178 teams in the state. Each team provides a chance for fourth-eighth grade students to learn technology, engineering and critical thinking skills, build confidence and learn how to solve real-world problems.

The Prickles, last year’s overall “Champions Award” winners, were excited to talk about the appeal of the competition. (They didn’t know it at the time of the interview, but they repeated as champions this year).

The team programs their robot, which they’ve nicknamed Tubby the Elephant, to do a series of small tasks like picking up a mock pipe and delivering it back to a base in the corner of the competition table.

There’s a special sense of satisfaction to seeing a machine you’ve designed and programmed do its intended job, team members said, which is tied to the excitement of doing hands-on work. Though young, they can tell this is the kind of collaborative, 21st-century training they’ll need to change the world.

“It’s the new generation of science and tech, and a lot of people here are probably going to grow up to be the science-tech engineers,” fifth-grader Kenadie Cox said.

“The satisfaction that you thought of even one idea that could help people is really cool,” Chloe Miller said.

“And they allow us to be loud,” sixth-grader Charlie Deach added.

The competition has three parts: the robotics game, a science fair-esque problem-solving competition and a “core values” component, where teams are judged on their enthusiasm, partnership and respect. Judges score each team in each of the three categories. The team that scores highest in a combination of all three categories earns the Champions Award.

There are teams at nearly every school in Juneau. Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools also compete in a separate robotics competition and volunteer at the Jamboree. The program is sponsored by the Juneau Economic Development Council, which tapped Soza to organize and run the whole thing.

There’s so much interest that there’s even a junior age category, where kids in kindergarten through fourth grade can participate in the problem-solving portion of the competition. Out in the Centennial Hall lobby, young Freyja Shelton-Walker displayed her poster-board idea for getting fresh water to a hospital. At just 7 years old, she built and programmed a Lego robot to travel from a mock hospital to a water filtering plant a few feet away.

People need fresh water at the hospital “so they don’t get sick,” she said.

While the Prickles took home the coveted Champion’s Award, five other teams received distinctions. Team Happy Dave took home the Robot Performance and Core Values awards. Team Lily Inc. was awarded for Robot Design. Team Robo Mojo won the Project Award and the Indestructible Award was given to the Girls Scout team called “Thursday” while the Possibilities Award was given to team X-tra Tuff Girls.