A team of local students are taking their idea to help facilitate companionship between senior citizens and cats to an international competition April 26-29.
The theme of this year’s First Robotics Competition, to be held in St. Louis, Mo., is “Animal Allies.” To make it to the international competition, the students had to choose and solve a real-world problem relating to the theme.
So using science, technology, engineering and math, the Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School’s robotics team has been working every Wednesday and Saturday since October to meet the goals of the competition.
The team’s first competition was held last month in Johnstown against 22 other central Pennsylvania robotics teams.
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The Young Scholars’ team took first place in four categories: core values, project, robot design and performance.
In St. Louis, the students from the Ferguson Township-based charter school will face competitors from 58 teams from the United States, and 42 international teams.
School spokeswoman Crystal Confer said aspects of the competition include designing and programming a Lego Mindstorms robot to complete up to 16 missions in less than three minutes, and identifying a problem when humans and animals interact and designing a solution to make the interaction better.
“So the competition isn’t all about robots, but also looking to solve problems in different categories,” volunteer and team coach Gary White said. “They found a problem, researched it, found a solution and executed their plan.”
Under direction of coaches White, Abdulkadir Biyik and Sarah Naeem, the students decided to design a solution that would facilitate companionship between senior citizens and cats.
“It was an idea that pushed them to think outside the box,” White said.
Students, he said, used practical applications to find ways the cat and elderly person could interact in a mutually beneficial way.
“They first thought about dogs as a senior citizen’s companion, but through research realized that some elderly folks might not have the energy to take care of a dog that needs walking and other things,” White said.
Students then looked at other animals like fish and pet rabbits, then decided on cats.
“What the kids did was research the behaviors and needs of cats to approach the problem,” White said. “They’re solitary creatures, but can still act as companions for people.”
Using household supplies, pet toys and a table, the students created a “cat loft” for senior citizens to put near their chairs. They also included a cardboard box to put under the table for when the cat wants to be alone.
The idea was then presented to Centre County PAWS and local senior centers for feedback, which White said was “positive.”
The student members are Zachary Cady, Ayla Dedeoglu, Nathan Duty, Araaf Mannan, Ryan McKee, Ashrafur Khan, Clara Pedroso, Elliott Rose, Arjun Sharma and Isaiah Watson.