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Finding solutions to real-world problems is at the heart of any STEM investigation. For instance, how do we feed a growing population? With the world’s population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, this is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today.

The HCISD Robotics Community Service Team, comprised of students from the district’s three high-school engineering clubs, has installed Farmbot, an agricultural robot, at STEM2 Preparatory Academy that will help students understand how they can use technology to meet the challenges of food production.

“Since July, students have been working hard on this project. There’s a lot of work involved –installing the rail systems, the robot, hooking up all the motors, programming, and troubleshooting,” said Shane Strubhart, Director of Public Relations and Community Engagement. “They are officially handing this off to Mrs. Walther and her science class. Kids here at STEM2 are going to see the robot in action and understand how it works. This is the future of farming. Future farmers are coming out of the engineering classes because we have a lot more people to feed in this world.”

“The future is bright for these kids. At STEM2 Prep it has been such an exciting first year to see these kids come in as sixth-graders, excited about STEM and problem solving,” said sixth-grade teacher Julie Walther. “You know, this is what they’re going to grow into, and from here they’re going to go on and change the world. This is why I do what I do.”

Precision agriculture and smart farming are being turned to more and more as technological solutions to increase production efficiency and quality. With these technologies already impacting agriculture, the use of Farmbot is providing students with authentic learning experiences by teaching students how to create and run a fully-automated farm.

The robot plants the seeds, waters the plants, measures the moisture in the soil and detects and eliminates weeds. It even alerts the user when vegetables are ready for harvest.

On “Sowing Day,” the robotics team demonstrated the Farmbot’s capabilities by planting a variety of vegetables like Bok Choy, lettuce, onion, carrots, and broccoli. They hope the garden will also be able to supply the cafeteria with fresh produce.

“This was our first project as the three schools [Harlingen High School, Harlingen High School South, and Early College High School] coming together, so I thought that was really cool since we are the first class doing this. I hope all the juniors and sophomores in this club continue with it as well as the progress that we’ve made this year,” said Mia Lopez, senior at HHS.

As with any engineering project, it took a lot of trial and error to get all the components working correctly.

“There were many challenges we encountered while working on this project,” said Cara Ingram, junior at HHSS. “It was a difficult piece, and it was good preparation for an even more difficult project. We have had to deal with a lot of technical difficulties, especially with the programming. It taught us a lot about teamwork and how to be efficient.”

The team of 12 is also hard at work on another venture – Project WAVE (Worldwide Automated Vessel Exploration). In Project WAVE students are building a vessel that will gather data from our oceans like temperature and water salinity. The team will launch it into the Gulf of Mexico and will receive live data about oceanic conditions as it travels through the Gulf.

Click here for more photos of “Sowing Day.”

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