The San Luis Valley 4-H youth robotics team of Mason Torr and Michael Ward, along with coach Amy Henschen, competed in the RoboRAVE International robotics competition in Medellin, Colombia, May 11-13. They won fifth place in the high school line following event.

“After four years of hard work and dedication with our robot, we could not be more thrilled about our performance,” said Michael Ward, 18 of Center. “The progress we made with the robot from competition to competition has been outstanding, and it was running at peak performance for this event.”

The team competed in the Line Following contest, which requires the robot to be able to follow a line, stop at a delivery box, and deliver a payload of ping pong balls. The team had ten strong qualifying runs, earning them the second seed overall in the final tournament. In the tournament they tied with their first round opponents, then lost in a close tie-breaker round. The team that beat them went on to win the entire event.

“Tying with the eventual winners was amazing,” said Mason Torr, 17 of Saguache. “The fact that our robot was able to perform so well against such a strong opponent was validation for all the hard work we put in for the past few years.”

The 3-day RoboRAVE International competition, was held at the Plaza Mayor in Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia. There were more than 125 teams from 8 countries, including Colombia, France, Czech Republic, Bolivia, Mexico, Argentina, and China.

“Being at this international competition has really shown me how people from around the world can collaborate, and bond over the shared ups and down of competing in robotics,” said Ward. “From minute to minute, the robot can change how it performs. This can be incredibly frustrating, but it forces you to adapt and persevere. It was clear that all the other teams were also facing the same challenges. This made us all want each other to succeed. Cheering for the other teams throughout the event ended up being some of the most fun we had.”

Aside from the competition, the group spent time exploring Medellin. On a night tour of the town they visited Pueblito Paisa, a recreation of a traditional area village. They also explored Plaza Botero, a park featuring statues by famous local sculptor Franciso Botero. On a free day they also visited the Medellin Botanic Garden and explored the metro system.

The team’s hotel was in the neighborhood around the soccer stadium. There were multiple soccer matches during their stay, which provided a lively look at the local culture.

RoboRAVE Colombia was the last major competition for Torr and Ward, who are aging out of the 4-H program this summer. They have been with the San Luis Valley 4-H robotics program since its pilot year in 2013.

“The event was so well executed and the competition was world class,” said Torr. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to participate in this event. This has been the highlight of my 4-H career.”

“We could not be more proud to have represented the United States, and the San Luis Valley, in this international competition,” said Henschen, team coach and 4-H agent with Colorado State University Extension. “The team and their robot performed exceptionally, and the people of Colombia welcomed us with open arms. The event was truly a celebration of creativity, teamwork, and learning. This was an experience none of us will ever forget.”