4-H Robotics Team Awes Grange Fair Visitors
Makenzie Thompson instinctively backed away from the machine moving toward her – an imposing work of metal, exposed gears, wires and blinking lights.
When Penn State engineer Jason Terosky handed her the controls to the robot, her wariness was instantly replaced by excitement. She took the controller – which looked like it might belong to a video game, not a robot – and pressed the button Terosky pointed at.
A whiffle ball flew from an air-powered cannon mounted to the machine, and a member of the Centre County 4-H robotics team across the street leapt up to try and catch it.
James Steffan, a student at Penn’s Valley Area High School, helped build the machine on display at the Grange Fair on Saturday over the course of six weeks with other members of the 4-H team to compete in an international robotics tournament.
“I really enjoyed being able to design something like this and then watch it come to life,” Steffan says.
Terosky explains that while 4-H may be primarily known for educational efforts related to agriculture, the youth organization has been expanding into fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He says this is a logical extension of their dedication to teaching children across the country.
“The U.S., and the world in general, needs people with capabilities in engineering and mathematics,” Terosky says. “We need to make sure our children stay abreast of these technologies to keep the world going.”
Steffan says before he joined Fatal Error (the Centre County robotics team), he’d done some computer programming and smaller building projects, but never anything like this.
“I thought I might help do some electrical work on this project, but I also ended up learning a lot of mechanical stuff and how to communicate in a team,” he says.
Chris Crestani says she’s been coming to the Grange Fair for close to 30 years. Though the 4-H club always has a display at the fair, she says she’s never seen anything like this.
“My grandson asked me how they did that, how they put it together,” she says. “And I said, ‘I don’t know how they did it.’ I’m very impressed by them.”
Steffan says people came up to him all Saturday afternoon at the fair, wanting to know more about the robot and the team. An aspiring computer scientist, he was happy to explain and hopefully inspire interest in robotics and science.
“To have people come up to me and say ‘Oh, wow! That’s so cool!’ is just a really cool feeling,” he says.