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Extension > Local Extension Offices > Clay > 4-H > Articles > Robotics Team Reorganizing for the New Year

Robotics Team Reorganizing for the New Year

Robotics, engineering, computer programming and keeping our 10,000 lakes healthy are the components that make for great learning experiences of the Clay County 4-H Aquatic Robotics team. This project began in 2011 with a simple Underwater Remotely Controlled Vehicle designed by MIT and the U.S. Navy.  A group of over 15 young people from Clay County were granted 8 vehicles and used them to learn about the basics of water quality testing, engineering, computer programming and simple building skills.  Soon after, team members began to create their own programs to read the diagnostic equipment such as a dissolved oxygen probe.  They used the underwater cameras to view lake life in the summer months and under the ice in the winter. Sensors were used to measure the Ph level and the lake temperature which were recorded for analysis.  A member of the lake association at Turtle Lake took the team out to test the ROVs and collect GPS coordinates, underwater views and water quality samples.


Six years later the team members have since developed several prototypes of their own design. They have redesigned a senior engineering project from the University of Minnesota, the “Super ROV”, which couldn’t maintain an upright position when they were gifted with it. It is now a stable vehicle that can be maneuvered without tethers by use of radio waves. It holds two video cameras and additional scientific equipment.

You can follow this group’s evolution by checking out the Clay County posts on the Minnesota Aquatic Robotics Facebook page. They have been highlighted in Ag News, the Fargo Forum, and the University of Minnesota Foundation Blog. This team has been asked to speak at the Minnesota Statewide Advisory Board, in front of the Clay County Commissioners and as an example of the scope of Clay County’s STEM work they were handpicked to present to Glyndon Farms Foundation. This foundation has gifted Clay County $100,000 for various areas of STEM work; and this team was the perfect group to meet with the Foundation twice to show the increase and depth in learning.  They have won numerous purple ribbons at county and state fairs, but the real take away is the learning and the fellowship between the coaches and team members.

One of the best things about the group is that they are truly “youth led and adult guided.” The youth are the decision makers. When nominating Coach Jeff Koppenhaver for a volunteer award, the youth aptly captured his philosophy when they stated he often says, “He is only there to make sure we don’t burn down the garage”; and often replies, when asked a question, “I don’t know but let’s find out.” These young people are valued for and encouraged to be independent with Jeff’s support. This philosophy and additional qualities garnered Jeff the top award for volunteers in Minnesota. The Salute to Excellence award for those with under 10 years of service is quite a honor.

If you are interested in learning more or being a part of this innovative and dynamic robotics team check out the YouTube video by searching for Clay County Aquatic Robotics.  There is a 3-minute video titled “A Little About Clay Co Aquatic Robotics.” The group meets at the Moorhead Public Library the first Tuesday of the Month at 6:30.  Later this summer they will be field testing in local waters.  Any youth 7th grade through one year past high school is welcome to attend.

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