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ISU Zero Robotics team wins Idaho division, prepares for national competition

It’s “out of this world” cool. The Zero Robotics team, working out of Idaho State University, won the Idaho division for coding they wrote for NASA.

The middle school-age students have been working together for the past five weeks, 15 hours a day, to create code that could be used by the International Space Station.

“Oh, I thought it was fun. I thought it was very… a learning experience,” said Anne Marie Frandsen, a seventh grader who is enjoying her second year in the Zero Robotics program.

This year’s challenge for program participants was to write code that would save a robot in outer space.

“They basically have a lost SPHERE, which is like a lost robot in space, and so our challenge for the kids is using their programming and their coding to send another SPHERE out to retrieve the lost SPHERE and bring it back,” said William Hawk, the instructor of the program.

The team had to create unique code to get around the obstacles in the simulation.

“In the program, you’re given a debris field that you have to navigate through and then you have your lost device. So, basically it’s a three-phase process, where you have to get across the debris field, you have to connect, hook up to the device, and then you have to pull it back,” Hawk said.

The code created by these kids could be used by the ISS.

“The idea being that they could maybe eventually use this information and this technology to retrieve a lost spacecraft or perhaps space debris as well,” Hawk said.

Now that they’ve completed their code, they’re celebrating their win against three other Idaho teams: Fort Hall, Boise and Rupert.

“There were four schools in Idaho that were participating and our code was the winning code by one-tenth of a point. It’s pretty close,” Hawk said.

One-tenth of a point is what beat out the incumbent Boise team.

“I was really excited when I found out that we won. I was actually not here when I found out, I was in Montana. But yeah, I was so excited,” Frandsen said.

The team will get to see their hard work go head-to-head with other finalists from around the nation on Friday.

Actual astronauts will referee the competition live from space.

“Yeah, I am very excited to see our code,” Frandsen said.

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