A team of St. Vrain Valley Schools students won first place in the fifth annual World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth, the school district’s Innovation Center announced Thursday.
The center’s Artificial Intelligence Leadership Team competed against students from the United Arab Emirates, Australia, India, Greece and other countries in the event, which challenges young people to solve real-world problems using technology.
Axel Reitzig, the center’s executive director of innovation, said he’s very proud of the local winners.
“It’s fantastic — they worked very hard on this project,” he said. “They just did an outstanding job, and they were very articulate describing really advanced concepts. It was very impressive. And it wasn’t just focused on the technology — it was focused on how they are using the technology to make the world a better place.”
The local winners include Nathaniel Vercammen, in 11th grade at Niwot High School; Grant Riddle, a senior at Silver Creek High School; Owen Welsh, a senior at Silver Creek High School; Jordan Boldt, in 10th grade at Lyons High School; and Riley Herchert, in 10th grade at Universal High School.
Dr. Debby Telfer started the center’s Artificial Intelligence Leadership Team, and when she left the school, Mai Vu, a computer science teacher at Altona Middle School, became the students’ new mentor and guided them to winning the competition, Reitzig said. Warren Gallaher, an engineer with the research organization UNAVCO, also provided his expertise to the project.
The team created a solution that restores the local endangered northern redbelly dace fish, which are now raised in captivity and then released into local waterways, Reitzig explained.
“The question is — how do you monitor the success — how are those fish doing after you release them,” Reitzig said. “They use artificial intelligence to help with those efforts.”
The students’ project, FishNET AI, captures underwater video of fish habitats, which is then analyzed by artificial intelligence at the Innovation Center. The team of students was paid for their work, Reitzig explained.
“What’s kind of unique to us, is we offer project teams, and students get hired and they’re employed by the district — they’re doing authentic work for real clients,” he said. “So this particular group has been doing work for Boulder County Parks and Open Space.”
Joe McBreen, the center’s assistant superintendent of innovation, said the team has had to develop the project in a remote area with no electricity or WiFi.
“The students have to solve for real-world conditions like extreme cold, extreme hot temperatures, water-proofing the units, videotaping, communicating those videos and pictures up to the Amazon Web Services cloud and then training an artificial intelligence model,” McBreen explained.
Events such as the World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth give students a chance to learn about teamwork and communication, McBreen said.
“You just can’t put a price tag on the value of those types of skills,” he said. “I watched these students for two years work on this amazingly complex project, and I’m proud as can be, yet not surprised.”