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Nobles County Humanoids qualify for state meet

ADRIAN -- Bob emitted a steady chug as he pulled out of his parking spot, maneuvered around animals and equipment and headed toward a circular milking parlor filled with Holstein cows.

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Members of the Nobles County Humanoids, a First Lego League team through 4-H, watch as their robot, Bob, maneuvers through the Animal Allies course during practice. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

ADRIAN - Bob emitted a steady chug as he pulled out of his parking spot, maneuvered around animals and equipment and headed toward a circular milking parlor filled with Holstein cows.

He kept chugging along, eventually reaching a bright red bar that he pushed to make the parlor rotate. The cows turned as though riding a merry-go-round and, upon a half-turn of their contraption, out rolled miniature barrels - white representing fresh milk and the brown, well, representing fresh manure, of course.

Bob is a robot. The cows, animals and equipment are made of Legos, and the group of kids watching to make sure everything goes as planned call themselves the Nobles County Humanoids. They are Nobles County 4-H’ers enrolled in the First Lego League.

The Humanoids - Joshua and Jocelyn Horn, Morgan Reetz, Lane Hoffman and Kaylee Taylor - competed in a Dec. 3 qualifier in Sioux Falls, S.D., where they were among 14 teams garnering enough points to advance to the First Lego League’s state competition in Sioux Falls in late January.

The team is one of several in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa to compete in South Dakota because of the closer proximity for contests. The qualifying round, split into two contests - the first Dec. 3 and the second planned Saturday - is conducted at Memorial Middle School, while the state contest will be hosted by Augustana University Jan. 28.

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Nobles County 4-H has had a First Lego League team for several years, providing a somewhat non-traditional option alongside the typical 4-H projects of foods and photography, livestock, crafts and community service.

The First Lego League is open to youths ages 9 to 14. In Nobles County 4-H, the Early Risers Kiwanis provided the funding several years ago to purchase a robot.

“The Kiwanis group wanted to get robotics going and hooked up with 4-H to purchase the initial robot,” explained Monica Horn of Adrian, who coaches the team with Dave Reetz of Wilmont. Both have children on the team.

Though the same robot is reused from year to year, it has to be rebuilt.

“The main brain stays the same,” said Jocelyn Horn, noting that team members program the robot to do different activities through the use of an iPad. The team practices for an hour and a half every Tuesday night.

There’s a fee to participate in First Lego League each year, as well as fees to participate in tournaments and for the Legos. This year, the theme is Animal Allies, so the Lego kits purchased built a variety of animals, from cows and a pig to a shark and flamingo.

The Humanoids began meeting in September, spending the first three weeks assembling each of the animals that are part of the 2016-2017 Animal Allies challenge.

First Lego League The First Lego League has youths using STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - through four key parts: core values, a research project, robot design and the robot run. The robot run and research project make up the largest share of points in competition.

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For their project, the Humanoids were required to research how they could improve human and animal interaction, fitting with the Animal Allies theme. They chose a project on service dogs, learning more about Adrian Elementary’s librarian, Ms. Klaassen, who has a service dog because of her hearing loss.

“We made a cape for Hogan, our expert, so he can work better,” said Jocelyn. “We wanted to make different colors of capes for different disabilities, so people knew how to react (to the service dog).”

The team gave their presentation during competition, presented it to members in the Nobles County 4-H Dog project -- as well as during a county-wide 4-H Federation meeting -- and wrote four letters to the editor that were sent to area newspapers to educate the public about service dogs.

“A lot of their time is spent on the project and developing that and doing research,” Monica Horn said.

With the robot, the team is judged on the design, but primarily on the tasks it can complete successfully.

“You have little mission models and you have to program the robot to do the missions,” said Morgan Reetz. “You have two and a half minutes to run the robot.”

In those two and a half minutes, the robot has to complete as many missions as it can - up to 15. The more missions completed successfully, the more points the team earns.

During the Dec. 3 contest, Bob did well enough in the robot run to earn the team second place and a chance to compete at the state contest. For scoring, judges take the highest score from three runs.

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“Our first two robot runs we bombed,” said Joshua Horn. “The overall points we could earn was 112, and our first robot run we got nine points and the second we got 17 points. If we’d done just as bad with our third run, we wouldn’t have been qualified.

“The third round we did tons of things right,” he added. “We got 60 points on it, which tied us for second.”

In addition to the project and robot classes, the core values portion of First Lego League focuses on developing leadership and teamwork while encouraging youths to treat each other with respect.

Joshua Horn said core values are something their team needs to work on before the state contest. He has been on the robotics team for four years, while his sister, Jocelyn, is in her second year. Both have been mentors to their teammates, all of whom are first-year participants.

“I like Legos,” said Lane Hoffman. “My mom thought it would be good for me to learn new things.”

Kaylee Taylor and Morgan Reetz are also fans of Legos. Morgan’s older sister was previously a member of the Humanoids, which added to her interest in being on the team.

“I like robotics because of the balance,” Joshua Horn said. “Programming is always fun. I just like robotics. That’s why I keep continuing year after year. I’m doing it again and again because I really like doing it.”


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Related Topics: 4-H
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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