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story.lead_photo.caption (Submitted by LabSpace Robotics) A participant in a previous robot race holds her robot at LabSpace Robotics' main location in Capital Mall.

After nearly two years away, LabSpace Robotics' robot parade is back on track this weekend.

LabSpace Robotics will be hosting the parade from 1-2 p.m. Saturday after a hiatus due to the pandemic. Instructors Annette Alberts, Zach Uhlmann and Donna Stallings are excited to get back to hosting a large event — especially one students have been working hard to prepare for.

But how do robots participate in a parade? Uhlmann said it's thanks to sensors and programming that helps robots answer a lot of little questions. After the programming is done, students can get creative: past floats have included big spiders, airplanes, recycled materials and pottery.

The objective is for robots to follow a black line in a circle across tables and not bump into the robot in front of them or "fall off a cliff to their doom," Uhlmann said. Robots have an ultrasonic sensor to help them to see around them, while a color sensor helps them to follow the black line. The programming students create, he said, helps the robot to ask questions and find solutions.

"What you do is based on the answers to those questions," Uhlmann said. "If (the robot) sees anything in front of it, it needs to hit the brakes. If not, it's safe to go ahead; then it will ask another question."

He said classes at LabSpace — along with independent projects children bring in from home or 4-H clubs — allow them to break down a problem into questions, and that programming they make leads to the robots' success.

"This is a big project for them," Alberts said. "They've been working for several weeks to gain skills and put those skills together."

Stallings, who teaches math classes at LabSpace but is an advocate for its robotics programs, said there are many aspects to robotics that spectators don't understand: It's more than watching robots drive in a circle.

"From a math perspective, it's critical thinking and problem solving," she said. "They don't fully understand what the students have gone through to get the robot to make those decisions."

It also gives the community a chance to participate in STEM-based fun.

"The kids are excited to see their robot on display, and I think it'll be good for the community," Stallings said. "This is a different type of activity they don't often see."

The event isn't a race, and it's more than a parade: Students get to practice sequential thinking, plan for a big project and see it to the end. It also helps them reach into the robotics world to see if they want to invest long-term, as equipment can run $500 for one robot.

"It shows them the iterative nature of a process, reaching a desired result and to persevere — and fail — without giving up," Alberts said. "We really don't want a lot of stress; it'll be fun and lowkey."

Participants must be registered before showing up; the event is free, and anyone is welcome to come cheer on the robots. Teams check in between 10-11 a.m. Saturday to test their robot on the parade route. LabSpace recommends bringing your computer and program in case changes need to be made; testing will be completed by 11:45 a.m. with the parade starting at 1 p.m. Registration deadline is noon Friday. To register and view robot requirements, visit bit.ly/3n33TWB.

The parade will be held at LabSpace Robotics in Capital Mall, 3600 Country Club Drive. Masking is required regardless of vaccination status. Call Annette Alberts at 573-645-0800 for more information.

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