Guam's own Starbase 2.0 built a "seed bomb" and a robot to help launch it into areas to help reduce erosion, deforestation and landslides on island.

The project was one of three phases of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, or FIRST, Global Challenge held this year.

The FIRST Global Challenge encourages youth to use science, technology, engineering and mathematics to address problems plaguing communities around the globe. A total of 197 countries competed in the competition, with corporations such as Google and Microsoft supporting the STEM initiative.

In addition to representing the island well, the team is hoping to inspire and recruit more students to join the team and to explore the STEM world.

"In the near future, the goal is to create outlets of what is originally provided in the schools," said Darryl Mercado, the team captain and main coder. "A lot of schools don't even provide a robotics program, don't offer any classes for it."

On Oct. 30, the team will find out if their seed bomb, nano satellite or other inventions were enough to get them onto the virtual podium. In 2019, Guam's team traveled to Dubai where it took third place in a challenge to build a robot that cleans trash out of the ocean. Another team of students represented Guam in Mexico City in 2018. The competitions were shifted to an online setting because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

This year, the FIRST Global Challenge divided the competition into three phases, unlike previous years, which had a singular task or theme. The phases were the Solutions, CubeSat and Robot Technical Challenges.

Starbase 2.0's lead researchers and engineers of the Solutions group took inspiration from Guam's environment. Noting reports of erosion from a nearby solar farm construction site that bled into the pools of Marbo Cave, the team developed its "seed bomb" – a ball of soil, seeds and clay that the robot would launch in specific areas. The bombs would also address issues of deforestation and landslides, the team said.

For the Robot Technical Challenge, the team of engineers were required to build a robot to accomplish a set variety of tasks. The robot needed the motor skills to move in a figure eight, pick up a delicate object and be able to carry its own weight.

Building more than robots

Mercado, who has a keen interest in robotics, explained how expansive STEM is and how it can be used to help the environment, play a role in economics and touch the everyday lives of people around the world.

Starbase 2.0 is a team of students who are learning to become inventors, engineers, researchers and professionals in the STEM fields. The team anticipates the growth of technological initiatives on island.

"A lot of people just have dreams," Mercado said. "And through technology, you can make those dreams a reality – and that's what we want to make for the future."

The team manager, Dr. Leah Beth Naholowaa, agrees. Nahlolowaa works with Starbase, a Department of Defense program administered locally by the Guam National Guard. Naholowaa, who is working with the new program, has worked with previous teams.

After the competition, the team will help teach STEM skills and basic coding to the Starbase Academy 1.0. Composed of students at the fifth-grade level, the classes will have "minds-on, hands-on" activities – exposing them to science and math principles.

"They are building the capacity of a human resource that is needed in the workforce of Guam," Naholowaa said of Mercado's goal to foster interest in STEM locally. "The engineers and doctors we have right now will not be here forever – you've got to build it early and expose them to STEM careers and its fields."


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