Local 12-year-old helps team win global robotics competition

PENDLETON — The concept of “get the ball in the basket” is nothing new for humanity.

It’s when you throw robots in the mix that things get really interesting.

The Vex IQ robotics competition does just that — teams construct robots from basic kits, all the while contriving how best to solve the problems that the competition course presents.

The Skyhawk 323S team, which vanquished nearly 200 other teams in its age group at the Vex IQ Worlds in Louisville, Kentucky, has local ties — one of its members, Owen Bishop, resides in Hancock County.

The 12-year-old makes up one-fourth of the Skyhawk team, whose members are all home-schooled and led by Jesse Lockerbie, a former home-schooled student himself. The team’s name comes from Colossians 3:23, which states: “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

Vex IQ teams use Lego-like blocks to build their robots, and learn programming by teaching their robots tasks. Each year, teams strive to best complete the tasks laid out on a four-by-eight-foot platform, as designated by the competition for second- through eighth-graders.

Owen’s team designed three robots before settling on one with a large scoop design, which helped them win the world competition. They met weekly to practice and to work on driving and programming their robotic creations.

At the world competition teamwork challenge, each team must work together with another team to get all the balls into their designated area, and then the teams share a score. Skyhawk 323S worked with a team, “Bestic C,” who came from China to Louisville, and between the two robots, achieved a perfect score.

“I was crying,” Owen said. “I had never felt so much emotion in three days as I did at worlds.”

The Bishop family has embraced Owen’s interest in robotics. His sister, Claire, helps sell snacks at the concession stands at local competitions, and his little brother, Everett, has become increasingly interested in the competition, though he’s not old enough to compete yet.

Vex IQ robotics not only nurtures youngsters’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it helps introduce students to other cultures, said Owen’s mother, Nicole Bishop.

The worlds competition creates an Olympics-like atmosphere with a parade of each team, Owen said. Vex IQ teams represented about 30 different countries this year, including the U.S., China, Haiti and Syria.

Each team sets up their “pit” with information about their home area — Owen’s team’s pit featured information about the Indy 500 — and the team members were encouraged to hand out small favors to other teams.

One Hawaiian team handed out leis to competitors, Owen said; his team handed out checkered flags.

Owen currently serves to make sure the team’s robots have freshly charged batteries, but he hopes to become a driver next year, and eventually start his own home-schooled student team.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.