ST. GEORGE — A group of young robotics wranglers from Hurricane and St. George represented Southern Utah at the annual “Robots on the Rotunda” event at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday.
During the event, they got to show off their robot, Perrytronic 3000, named for Perry the Platypus from the TV kids show “Phineas and Ferb.” And that robot got the attention of the governor.
The group of students, ranging from grades 8-12, known as the Team Without a Cool Acronym, were the sole representatives from the area at the event sponsored by FIRST, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting youth science and technology leaders. Founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, the acronym comes from the phrase “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.”
“We pulled up to the Capitol building, and around 20 teams were there,” Amy Hummel, the coach of Team Without a Cool Acronym, said.
Even with the honor, the trip wasn’t necessarily a lock on the calendar for Amy Hummel’s squad. This Saturday, they will be competing along with four other teams from the St. George and Cedar City areas at Ogden’s Weber State University in the FIRST Tech Challenge State Championship.
With the preparation for the state tournament in a fever pitch, it wasn’t necessarily easy to take a day off school for a 4.5-hour trip up north after an invitation from Utah Sen. Don Ipson. But Hummel said it proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It was definitely worth it, and it got the kids excited for this weekend,” she said.
The highlight of the event came when Utah Gov. Gary Herbert sought out the team for an audience. It turned out to be a “friend of a friend” situation. The father of team member Hannah Snyder works with Herbert’s son, causing the governor to catch wind of the T.W.C.A. and seek them out.
“Somehow it got to the governor about us, so we were told to wait for him to come by in 20 minutes, and 20 minutes later there he was. The interesting thing is he really did come for our team and knew us by name,” Hummel said. “He chatted with the team for a good 15 to 20 minutes, which I thought was a long time to take out of his day.”
Hummel said that the governor talked to the young members of the team about the event and the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). But the governor did more than that. He actually took control of Perrytronic 3000. That drew the notice of FIRST Regional Director Chelsey Short.
“The moment Gov. Herbert broke into a big grin as he was driving the robot was very gratifying,” Short said. “The teams that got the chance to explain their robots to the governor were so well-spoken, and we are very proud of them.”
Also impressed were the T.W.C.A. members themselves – even when Utah’s governor came close to causing a minor incident with another team.
“He did pretty good,” Hummel said. “He just bumped another team’s robot very gently, so he said we needed to help him clear it up with the other team.”
Perrytronic 3000 is named for the nemesis of Dr. Doofenshmirtz on the popular Disney Channel program “Phineas and Ferb.” In fact, the team’s name also takes its inspiration from the secret organization the intrepid Perry works with on the show known as the O.W.C.A. (Organization Without a Cool Acronym).
The team members have built the robot version of Perry from the ground up using not-so-advanced materials that one wouldn’t expect in a futuristic robot.
Perrytronic 3000 is made of wood.
“The functional reason is it prevents electrostatic discharge. There’s a lot of static, four robots on the (robotics competition) field and foam tiles, so a lot of things can happen,” Hummel said. “Wood is cheap and lightweight and custom cut using a laser cutter, which is fun.”
The team itself is only a few months old, started by Amy Hummel’s daughter, Caitelyn Hummel. However, its roots run much deeper. Each member has known each other since they were very young, as they are either the children of their coach or the children of high school classmates of Amy Hummel.
“They’re a second generation of nerds,” Amy Hummel said.
Caitelyn Hummel, the group’s chief mechanical engineer, is joined by her older sister, Jocelyn Hummel, who creates the mechanical specs, and younger brother, Caldin Hummel, who handles many last checks. The team is rounded out by programmer Gerrod Nelson, designer Alex Bracken and graphic designer Hannah Snyder. All attend Hurricane High School except for Caldin Hummel, who attends Hurricane Middle School, and Snyder, who is a senior at Desert Hills High.
Qualifying for the state championship in their very first competition in December, the Hummel sisters formed the team with their friends after being a part of a robotics team in St. George called The PrestidigiTaters, which also qualified for Saturday’s championship.
Among the other local teams competing Saturday in Ogden are fellow Hurricane team Black Ops and Cedar City’s MacroRaptors and Plus or Minos. In all, 36 teams are competing, with the top two going to the national championships in Houston this April.
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