The birth of a robotic scarecrow may sound like “The Wizard of Oz” joined forces with Pixar for a new animated feature film. But when school begins next week, Oxford Hills Middle School students will have a chance to code, design and build a robot that will scare deer from Roberts Farm. What’s more, if the prototype is successful, it will be marketed to farmers nation-wide.

This will happen as part of the middle school’s Learning Quest program. In it, kids spend every Wednesday immersed in projects that combine real world experience with learning experiences they have in school, Pat Carson, School Administrative District 17’s applied learning in the community and Roberts Farm coordinator, said.

“I think it’s got the opportunity to bring agriculture and coding together, which doesn’t happen very often,” he said last week, adding that like all gardens and farms, Roberts Farm in Norway has a deer problem. Four or five deer have been eating its produce. 

Furthermore, he says the robot project provides the opportunity for students with at least three different interests to participate. And that’s only one of several choices.

“On (Friday,) Sept. 4, we’ll present all the middle school kids the different quests they can sign up for,” Carson said.

For those who aren’t stoked about the math and science initially required for the robot quest, there’s a language arts and communications quest, for which students will create a news channel, he said.

There is also a performing arts and creative arts quest, at the end of which students will hold a major performance with Oxford Hills Music and Performing Arts Association, he added.

Like the Aspire Higher Race Car quest, in which students worked with a business in the field and a race car driver, students in the robot quest will work with William Lovell, chief executive officer of c-Link Systems Inc. in Norway, to code the robot.

To design and code the robot, students will need to figure out the characteristics of the deer so that they can decide what will not only scare them off, but keep them away, SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts said. Flashing lights that are set off periodically may keep deer at bay until they learn that there are no other repercussions. Colpitts said kids are already thinking outside the box.

“One (student) even came up with mace. That every so often, they robot sprays mace (at the deer),” Colpitts said.

Students will also work with Maine Machine Projects in Paris to design and create the parts needed to build the prototype.

“Maine Machine has been willing to provide the staffing, resources and material,” Colpitts said, adding that students will also learn how the machines make the needed parts. “It’s an opportunity we don’t want our kids to miss out on.”

Colpitts credits Grover Gundrilling and Maine Machine with keeping kids here by providing them opportunities. Maine Machine gives students scholarships to tech schools, he said, and a paying job while they’re learning skills that benefit the company.

“We don’t want kids to move away, necessarily. We want them to receive an education and have opportunities in our neighborhood,” Colpitts said. “It’s not just about building a robot.”

If the prototype is successful, in the robot team’s second year, Colpitts said students will work on fundraising and marketing, in human resources, and more.

“Someone’s got to sell it. Someone’s got to price it,” he said. “All of these provide employment opportunities for our kids.”

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