(top) Jayden, Monserrat, Joy, Nahom. (bottom) Lyla, Mia, Klover, Bransen.

In every industry, the utilization of robots is on the rise. That’s why the Echo Canyon robotics team – the Echobots – are gaining valuable, hands-on experience in this growing tech sector. As a testament to their ingenuity, this group of industrious fourth and fifth-graders recently tied for 8th place out of 100 schools at the FIRST LEGO League Robotics State Championship.

“Four or five regional tournaments are held in Arizona,” said Echobots Coach Kay King. “Since we were in the top eight in regionals, we advanced to state where approximately 100 teams competed.”

The competition includes four elements: a problem to be solved, the presentation explaining the solution, the robotics portion and the fulfillment of FIRST LEGO League’s core values: inclusion, fun, discovery and innovation.

“Each year, every participating team is assigned the same theme,” King said. “City Shapers was this year’s theme, which meant we had to research specific and real urban problems and devise a solution.”

Their issue of choice was Phoenix’s “heat island” effect, and their answer was “cool trees”. King defines a “cool tree” as “an artificial tree that provides shade. Powered by solar panels, it contains misters and fans that are activated by motion detectors whenever movement is detected within a five-foot radius.”

The Echobots learned that Phoenix wants to achieve 30 percent more canopy shade by 2025. The team thinks their “cool trees,” which can be installed where live trees can’t, should help. The Echobots are currently working on a grant to have their “cool trees” built.

During the robotics segment, King said, “all teams build their own robot, which must be able to operate on a 4x8 board completing specified missions like lifting, dropping and flipping certain items.”

Teams begin with what’s called a brick, or the brains of the robot. While the robots can be as varied as the imagination of the teams, most possess wheels and arms along with some type of forklift for functionality. Every team completes the same tasks on the same board.

Teammate Bransen, who was the Echobot’s main programmer, said “building the robot” was what he enjoyed most about being on the team.

“An aspect I really like about Echobots is that we can express ourselves without being judged,” team member Nahom said.

“This league and its competition drive kids to think and develop real world solutions to actual problems,” King said. “FIRST LEGO wants future engineers to be able to communicate and work together to solve pressing issues.”

FIRST LEGO League welcomes homeschooled children, plus church and community groups for grades four through eight with 10 kids per team.

“Because we’re fourth and fifth-graders, it’s exciting that we’re in the Top 10 against 100 teams,” Echobot team member Joy said. “Echobots is really amazing, fun and cool.”

“And we have grown to be better friends over the year since we’ve been working together,” team member Mia said. “We’re closer now than when we started, and we’re better as a team.”

“I’m so proud of all of them,” King said. “They did such a wonderful job.”