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Beckley girl heads to national robotics competition


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Daniella Fragile, a 12-year-old seventh-grade girl from Beckley, is a dancer, a basketball player, a young scientist, a future Radford or Duke University graduate, and, most importantly, a future NASA robotics engineer.

As Daniella sits in a St. Francis De Sales School classroom in her hunter green polo shirt, she tugs on her khaki skirt, sits up straight, legs crossed, and moves up her blue and black glasses so they’re perching properly on the bridge of her nose while she concentrates on explaining her love for robotics engineering.

Young gearheads Daniella Fragile, right, 12, and partner Salia Harris, 10, practice piecing together and working with a “sustainabot” Saturday morning inside the West Virginia State S.T.E.M. Lab in Beckley. The two St. Francis de Sales Catholic School students are preparing to take their skills to this year’s World Robot Olympiad.
(Register-Herald photo by Brad Davis)

“I’ve been working with robots for about two years now,” she said. “I caught on pretty quickly.”

Daniella and her team member took part in the World Robot Olympiad competition at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center in August when they qualified in moving forward to the national championship competition set for Saturday, Sept. 9, at the North Carolina University Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, N.C.

WRO is an international robot competition bringing together young people from all over the world to develop creativity, design and problem-solving skills through robot competitions and activities.

If Daniella makes her marks as she intends in the national championship competition, she could qualify for the WRO World Championship Competition Nov. 10-12 in Costa Rica.

Daniella said she remembers when her school principal went around to classrooms asking students if they would be interested in putting together a robotics team.

“As soon as it was mentioned, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “Robots just sounded really cool.”

Daniella thought they were just going to be dealing with the typical robot, but she was in for a surprise.

“When we actually started working with them, I saw that they were Lego robots, which just made it even better.”

She said a robot made out of Legos sounds impossible, but it is not. “It’s like a brick, and the outside layer of the brick is made of Legos, and the whole inside of it is mechanical,” she said, motioning with her hands to show how the robot is built.

“And there are gears and motors that are also made out of Legos. Then, we take Lego pieces and we attach them together to make certain things that are compatible with our robot.”

Daniella explained the building process can get pretty technical if you do not follow proper procedures with your robot.

“If you just put a regular Lego piece to any old gear, it’s not going to work,” she said. “You have to use special pieces, and study and remember where everything is supposed to go. I mean, if you want it to actually work.”

Daniella was leery of robotics at first. She said although she is smart, she had no idea she would qualify for the WRO National Championship Competition.

“During the state competition, we didn’t know once it was over if we had qualified or not yet,” she said.

NASA officials present during the competition had to tally up scores and send them off to WRO officials to determine who received scores high enough to qualify for Nationals.

During the state competition, Daniella said she had to take her robot apart then program it to follow the competition’s theme of carbon pollution.

“We had to build a mat that had different sections on it,” she said. “Then we had to program and put together our robot to get it to follow lines on the mat, and pick up things and take those things to other parts of the mat to match up with other pieces.

“I mean, it was kind of complicated, but not really.”

Daniella said when she received word of qualifying for the WRO National Championship competition, she was stunned.

“I was so excited,” she said. “I danced and ran around the room. I was so happy.”

She said she has proved to herself she is a lot smarter than what some people give her credit for.

“But I don’t like all the attention on me,” she said. “Yes, I work hard, but that doesn’t mean I don’t mess up.”

If a robot is not wired correctly, it is possible it may malfunction or break. Daniella said she has experienced this at one time or another.

“One time one of my robots got stuck and kept moving forward instead of doing what I was wanting it to do, but that’s when you just sit back and think of the past steps and try to figure out where you went wrong.”

She said she enjoys the competitions, but she really enjoys building and coding robots in general.

“I spend a lot of time messing around with programs I have at home on my computer. They help me practice a lot and help with learning more about robots.”

Daniella said, without a doubt, science is her favorite subject in school.

“I am a science nerd at heart,” she said. “I can remember almost any topic of science and then explain it to someone as if I am in a higher grade than what I am.”

She said she does a lot of what she does with robotics for all the other young girls out in the world. “Girls sometimes get a bad reputation of not being able to do something as well as a boy, and all of the girls doing stuff like this just shows that we can do things just as well as they can.”

Daniella said she definitely sees more boys at the robotics competitions than she does girls.

“It just feels good getting out there and proving some people wrong.”

She said her first piece of advice to any young girl wanting to participate in a science-related field is: Do not listen to boys who say you cannot do something.

“Just go through your heart,” Daniella said. “If your heart is telling you that you can do something, then you should do it and not listen to anyone else.”

Daniella said she thinks she is prepared for the WRO National Championship Competition because she has been practicing hard.

“It has a lot to do with your memory,” she said. “I can remember almost anything by repeating things over and over in my head.”

She said that specific process helps her in competitions because she is able to build things by memorizing her notes and each step she has taken in the past.

“I have basically all of my notes in my engineering notebook, and I plan on taking it with me to the national competition.”

It is in Daniella’s life plan to become a NASA robotics engineer after receiving degrees from either Radford or Duke University.

She explained NASA’s attempts to put people on Mars and their plans of sending rovers to the planet to prove it once has a water source.

“But since the atmosphere of Mars was diluted and disappeared, they’re having trouble proving they’re used to be sustainable life on it,” she said.

It is her goal to prove those thoughts to be factual.

“I want to be one of the people who take part in putting robots and even people on Mars so they can live there. And I believe I can one day.”

— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH 

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