Robots rule at math, engineering camp

Jack Lueck, 12, left, of Denver controls a robot Friday that was built by the yellow team at the Protocamp competition at Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction. Seven teams designed and built a robot for the contest, part of a math and engineering camp for middle school students. It was Jack’s second year at Protocamp, and his team won. His team members were Chance and Piper Davis, both 13, of Clifton.

Twelve-year-old Jack Lueck knows what he wants to do when he grows up.

He wants to build self-intelligent vehicles, and he’ll do everything he can to achieve that dream.

The future engineer, along with his 10-year-old sister, Ollie, came to Grand Junction from Denver and lived in a hotel for a week so the two could attend Protocamp, a weeklong math and science camp designed to teach middle school students the basic tricks of the engineering trade.

“I liked it last year, so I decided to come back,” Jack said.

Now in its third year, Protocamp began as a way to get kids to focus on energy and alternative fuels, camp director Bill McCracken said.

This year, the camp focused on designing, building, wiring and troubleshooting robotic vehicles that resemble complex Erector Sets.

The materials for the camp were funded by a grant from the El Pomar Foundation and through donations.

One Fruita couple, Dean and Kim Tomschko, donated six robots to the cause, McCracken said.

The 21 campers were split into teams of three and spent the week building and rebuilding the robots and bouncing ideas off each other.

“It was hard trying to work out which ideas we wanted to do,” said red-team member Zoe Shanahan, 12.

Frustration was rampant for the red team as it tried to figure out how to get the vehicle’s arm to move.

“The arm wasn’t moving. It slipped out of the clutch,” 12-year-old Brendan Anders said.

“Once we fixed it, it was better,” Joseph Penkaty, 10, added.

Camp assistant and Mesa State College mechanical engineering student Logan Locke was impressed with the campers’ motivation to learn.

“They were so engaged in wanting to experiment,” she said, adding the kids didn’t like to take breaks from their work.

The Grand Junction Bomb Squad fueled the campers’ passion for robots even more when it did a demonstration for the group.

Although the campers’ robots may not be bomb squad material, they can still perform simple tasks.

The kids had a chance to show off their robots’ abilities at the camp’s culmination Friday afternoon at the Archuleta Engineering Building, facing off in a friendly competition. The challenge was to move foam balls from one side of an arena, over a wall, to the other side.

So, how did Jack fare in the tournament?

He, along with brother-sister yellow-team members Chance and Piper Davis, both 13, of Clifton took top honors at the competition.

And Jack took one step closer to living his dream.


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