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Cloudy with a Chance of Robotics: Eagle STEM students compete at national competition

Sixth graders Kashvi Bansal and Rishi Gajera were selected as one of 20 national finalists for eCYBERMISSION in Washington D.C. this last week.

EAGLE, Idaho — Two Treasure Valley sixth graders are using their STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) knowledge to help the Idaho Food Bank while also representing Idaho at a national level. Kashvi Bansal and Rishi Gajera were selected as one of 20 national finalists for eCYBERMISSION, a STEM competition put on by the U.S. Army, that took place in Washington D.C. this last week.

The two 11-year-olds created a gadget with the Idaho Food Bank in mind that helps sort donated food by nutritional categories. That device is what earned them a free trip to the nation's capital and compete among other top STEM 6th-9th graders in the country. They are the first team in Idaho to compete.

"It really, really makes us proud and we're using our STEM knowledge to help the community," said Rishi.

The duo attended Treasure Valley Math and Science Center, a school that specializes in STEM learning, and are the two members of a local robotics team, Cloudy with a Chance of Robotics.

They got the idea to help the Food Bank after volunteering last year and noticing a shortage of volunteers, Kashvi said. She added they felt they could help make sorting the different foods by nutrition process quicker and more efficiently if they incorporated what they learned in their STEM activities.

"Sometimes food doesn't get sorted, and it goes to waste, and it might expire, or something might happen to it," Kashvi said.

Cloudy with a Chance of Robotics then brainstormed the idea to build a device that would sort donated items by nutritional food categories (protein, dairy, vegetables, fruit, etc.) by scanning the nutrition label of boxed and canned foods. 

First, they did research and collected data from more than one hundred different packaged foods.

Then they got a touch screen device, camera and computer software system and spent the last six months bringing the idea to life. The camera snaps pictures of the nutrition label then the system's programming called 'Python' is able to read the image's text. The food item is then instantly classified into different food categories the Food Bank uses to sort food.

"We also have created a database and each food gives its own unique ID. So if you want to look at the nutrients of a certain item, you scan and then you can go back to the database," Rishi said.

The team's supervisor Raj Bansal said they studied YouTube videos to help create their device.

Kashvi and Rishi believe their device will help speed up the sorting process and staff and volunteers can utilize their time more efficiently.

While team Cloudy with a Chance of Robotics did not walk away with the eCYBERMISSION's top prize, both Kashvi and Rishi were awarded $4,000 in a savings bond and were one of five teams awarded a $5,000 STEM in Action grant. They plan to use the money to further their prototype and help develop solutions to help the Idaho Food Bank.

Kashvi said they're working on creating a drone that will scan barcodes in the Food Bank's inventory warehouses without people having to bring down boxes to do so. Another idea is to develop a mobile app that can scan nutrition labels.

They say while this project is taking up most of their time at the moment, they still have ideas for next year like developing technology that can help detect wildfires.

While in DC, they also got to attend classes and workshops that taught them more about STEM careers around the world.

"We also made some new friends," Rishi said. "So it's not all about competition. It's also about learning and making new friends."

Raj Bansal said they are looking for more members to join Cloudy with a Chance of Robotics and take part in STEM activities. For those interested in learning more click HERE.

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