Local team excels at Robot Olympiad

Research facility possible in Douglas County

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Pictured are, from L to R, back row: Sanskaar Saxena (Cresthill MS - Special Award in Creative Category); Akshant Lanjewar (Pine Grove Elementary - Bronze Medal in Creative Category Jr); Sam Zimmer (DCHS - Gold Medal Creative Category); Randy Menzer, US IRO representative; Ryan Ham (Legend HS - Gold Medal Creative Category). Front row: Matt Mahoney (Highlands Ranch HS - Bronze Medal Robot Dance) with Gillian Menzer and Audrey Menzer (both from Douglas County HS); and Haley Steinke (CRMS) Gold Medal in Creative Category.
Courtesy photo
Gold medalist Haley Steinke, left, and Professor Jong-Hwan Kim of South Korea, founder of the International Robot Olympiad take a moment together.
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After hauling away 22 awards from December’s International Robot Olympiad, the volunteers behind the Ameribotics team only have eyes for the future.

“For the number of kids we brought to competition, statistically these were huge wins,” said Randy Menzer, executive director of the Douglas-County based nonprofit.

“This is the first year we’ve won a gold medal.”

It has been a steep climb to success, according to Menzer.

The organization went from bringing six participants to competition in Jakarta, Indonesia three years ago to 32 participants and 22 medals — including four gold — this year.

This was the first time the global robotics competition was held on U.S. soil, a four-day event held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver with 13 categories, typically dominated by competitors from China and South Korea, according to organizers.

Menzer started lobbying three years ago to bring the competition to North America.

The competition combines elements of engineering and science, as well as artistic components with categories like “robot movie” and “robot dance.” It is thought of as the “Super Bowl of robotics,” according to volunteer Steve Mahoney.

“These kids could be working on 3D imaging at Pixar or the next group of Imagineers at Disney,” Mahoney said.

Now that the Olympiad is over, Menzer said the organization has a list of priorities to tackle for the duration of 2014 and beyond, including building on a partnership with the Highlands Ranch Community Association and building a robotics lab and research facility somewhere along the I-25 corridor in Douglas County in the next five years.

Menzer calls this vision a “robotics incubator,” and answer to future economic opportunities as well as a deficit in STEM education in the U.S. Menzer also mentioned the possibility of an academy for foreign students in Douglas County.

“No one really connects Colorado with robotics, but there’s this opportunity to make this a kind of hub,” Menzer said.

“This is about solving real-world problems, taking kids from being consumers of technology - posting on Facebook, tweeting, whatever - to the other end of the spectrum and creating that technology.”

Ameribotics also plans to start hosting summer camps and workshops some time this year, working with the HRCA for use of facilities.

The partnership will provide a common place for students from multiple schools, mostly from Douglas County, Menzer said.

Menzer hopes to be getting ready for summer camps by the second quarter of this year.