By Jacki Wood

The NERDS (Novice Engineers Robotics Design Society) team, comprised of students from South Nodaway and Northeast Nodaway, participates in the First Tech Challenge which is more than just about building robots for competition.

Students are challenged to design, build, program and operate robots while they develop STEM skills, practice engineering principles and realize the value of hard work, innovation and teamwork.

And, even failure.

That’s what happened to the NERDS team this year. After seeing their robot’s flaws at their first meet in December, the team regrouped and is now headed to state.

“After the first meet, we ranked 10th out of the 20 teams in our league,” Gerald Nelson, team sponsor, said. “We were not happy with the performance of our robot and recognized several deficiencies after watching the other competing robots. We decided to rebuild our robot almost completely.”

Following their second meet on January 22, the NERDS team had moved up to 4th place in their league, and after the League Tournament on January 29, the team ranked 3rd and was one of five teams invited to advance to the state tournament.

This year’s NERDS robotic team includes four students from South Nodaway, sophomore Blair Allen, junior Nicco LaBryer, sophomore Ellen Hayden and eighth grader Lyndon Hayden, and two from Northeast Nodaway, senior Nathan Meyer and senior Colton Swalley.

“My favorite part is the competition, getting to see all the hard work put into action and seeing all the other teams and how they went about their robot,” Swalley said, who joined as an eighth grader and is now in his fifth year with the team.

Swalley said he is learning a great deal about engineering by participating with NERDS.

“Robotics is the whole reason I plan to pursue a career in electrical or mechanical engineering,” he said. “Ever since I first started helping build the robots, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”

Lyndon Hayden is in his first year with the team and has enjoyed building the robot and watching it all come together.

“I think I am gaining knowledge of robots and what they can do when different things are added or taken away,” he said.

Ellen Hayden serves as the website editor for the team and has been involved for four years.

“I enjoy watching matches,” she said. “I feel that I’m gaining knowledge of the outreach perspective of robotics.”

Nelson said meets consist of a series of matches in which four teams compete simultaneously, two on one side and two on the other. The match lasts for two and a half minutes, with the first 30 seconds featuring the robots under autonomous control and the remainder under human operator control. The team score is the combined score of both partners.

The NERDS team now moves on to the state competition, the First Tech Challenge Missouri Kansas State Championship, which will be March 5 at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

Nelson said the team is sponsored by the Northwest Missouri Educational Robotics Foundation and is now in its seventh year. They have received financial support this year from Conception Abbey, the Gladys M. Rickard Trust and a private individual.

“We are very grateful to our sponsors and to our parents and friends for their support of our participation in this great program,” he said.