Two local robotics teams earned awards for their projects tackling the issue of homelessness.
Beavots Back in Action, a Riverbend Elementary School team coached by Marnita Coenraad, and Loco Friends, a Raven Homeschool team coached by Dan Coleman, were awarded the Judges Award and Innovation Project Award, respectively, Saturday at the Juneau Robotics Jamboree.
The former team’s project consisted of turning old buses into mobile washing units. Loco Friends considered how shipping containers could be turned into safe housing for homeless people.
“They’re super empathic about others in the community and they looked at homelessness from a perspective that I think a lot of adults don’t necessarily look at it from,” Coleman said. “They see the opportunities. They don’t see a lot of the hurdles we the grown-ups often see.”
The competition attracted two dozen Southeast teams — mostly from Juneau — and consisted of a robot challenge and innovation project. The event was centered around FIRST LEGO League, a program hosted by the Juneau Economic Development Council.
In the robot challenge, autonomous robots were tasked with moving and capturing objects in a LEGO-built city. Robots that completed the most jobs — such as hanging a bat on a tree — accumulated the most points. In the innovation project, robotics teams came up with a solution to a building or public space in the community.
“It was all about how to use Vitruvian principles to create a more beautiful functional world,” Rebecca Soza, Juneau Economic Development Council STEM Program Manager, said. “But basically it was city planning, urban planning and they were supposed to talk to experts in their community, identify a problem that they feel passionate about and then come up with a way to solve it.”
Loco Friends created a trifold display with visuals of the shipping container home design and listed everything that it would contain, including a sofa bed, energy-efficient heating pumps and a locking door. They estimated the home price at $13,000 and compared that to the $185,000 price tag they estimated to build a Housing First.
The Housing First Collaborative is a housing unit built two years ago homelessness with a high vulnerability index.
Coleman said the team originally thought of creating lockers specifically for the homeless.
“But then they realized we’re not really happy with that solution because it stores their things but people are still sleeping in the streets or sleeping outside and cold,” Coleman said. “And so then they came up with the idea to come up with some kind of temporary housing for homeless folks who aren’t in Housing First and aren’t in other solutions in the community.”
Tyler Whisenant, 14, said the locking door was a key feature of the design.
“They’ve had their stuff stolen so many times that they are even scared if they have lockers,” Whisenant said. “They were making lockers for the Thane Campground and they’re still scared to put it in there.”
Krosswalk Kangaroos from Skagway School won the top award, given to the most outstanding team in the competition. The Kangaroos were one of five out-of-town teams at the competition. The Kangaroos and Redneck Robo Hobos of Haines both competed virtually using video calls.
The Ice Architects, from the IDEA homeschool program, and Lego Blasters, a community team, also won awards. The former took the robot design award and the latter took the Core Values award.
Soza said FIRST LEGO League has been in Juneau for about 12 years, and. She said one of the keys to growing the program will be finding enough coaches.
“It’s just finding people to fill that (coaching) role,” she said. “We’ve gone up and down with how many teams we’ve had in Juneau but the interest I would say definitely just keeps gaining.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.