TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX) – It was a simple mission: pick up a water bottle and transfer it to a red square.

It started out successfully enough, but in the end the robot failed to deliver the bottle. For one thing, its arms were too loose.

Peyton Niendorf picked up the four-wheeled robot and moved it to a table to adjust its arms. Other students either sat or stood at desks working on their robots.

This was Jim Siggaard’s technology class – several three- and four-person teams manipulating math and technology – on Wednesday at Canyon Ridge High School.

Siggaard recently received an $8,000 grant from Idaho STEM Action Center, an organization that promotes science, technology, engineering and math in the classroom. The money was used to purchase six new robotic kits and five new computers for programming.

Siggaard said that in the modern world there is a “huge need” for people with careers in robotics.

The phrase “careers in robotics” might seem like an oxymoron considering that in many industries robots have replaced human workers.

“Humans get tired doing of the same stuff all day,” he said. “But robots don’t. They can do the same things faster, accurately and without taking a break all day long.”

Photo by Andrew Weeks

But there’s still a human equation in robotics. Robots may have replaced some human workers, but it is people who create the bots.

“As a result we’ve lost some blue-collar jobs, but we’ve created white-collar jobs,” Siggaard said.

In class, students are introduced to the basics of robotics – building a bot, how to use flowcharts, coding, troubleshooting.

It’s serious-minded work. Students in class on Wednesday were focused, intent on making their robots autonomously do what they had envisioned.

One robot had long, crane-like arms with claws at their end. Others were smaller metal contraptions that resembled Erector Set remote-controlled vehicles.

Students try to get the bots to move autonomously by following coding commands. It is programming that student Tyler Smith likes most about class.

“That’s the part I really do enjoy,” he said.

Oz Shinksi said he’s learned a lot in class, from just about every task, from building the robot to troubleshooting.

“We’re still trying to figure out what we want it to do,” he said as he and team members Smith and Mitchell English worked on their robot.

Siggaard said if you don’t think robotics play an important part in today’s world, take another look. He referred to modern farm tractors, many which are autonomous; law enforcement and military use bots to remove explosive devices; and a number of manufacturers and even stores use robots.

Building a robot – and programming it to follow code – is itself an experience in troubleshooting.

“It’s all trial and error after they do the coding,” he said.

Coding itself is an experience in troubleshooting. A misplaced semicolon or other symbol in the code will mess up a bot's intended autonomy.

Tackling such a serious-minded topic as robotics, however, hasn’t left the students without a sense of humor.

“Want to know how to drive a programmer crazy?” student Mitchell English asked as he adjusted an item on his team’s robot. “Put one little symbol out of place and watch him go crazy.”

_____

Reporter Andrew Weeks can be reached at Andrew.Weeks@townsquaremedia.com or 737-6025.