Saturday, November 23

Everything You Never Knew You Wanted To Know About Lego Robotics

Last summer, Lucy had the chance to try out for her school's selective 5th grade First Lego League team (FLL).
And she made it!  
I was super proud of her and had no idea what it meant.  I mean, I knew there was robot building and programming, and something about a big table, and extreme weather.  But, that was it and if I pressed her for details, I was often left more confused.
Today was their big qualifying competition and after spending eight and a half hours at the school, it is finally all clear.
FLL is an international organization that encourages kids 9-14 to explore engineering, science, and computer programming.  Each year, teams are presented with a real world problem to research, do a number of presentations on, and design their robot to assist in solving.  Each team builds a unique robot using a Lego Mindstorms kit.  Similar to this.  The kits come with a variety of wheels, sensors, and different sized parts.  The kids have to consider the challenges the robot must complete when they are designing it.  And, there is no adult help in the design or the team will be docked points at the competition.

This year's theme was Nature's Fury.  The kids had to pick a natural disaster to research.
Lucy's team picked wildfires and their team name was...
THE WILDFIRES and they named their robot ROBOFIRE.
Lucy's team came up with a hypothetical solution to wildfires: a backpack for campers that holds materials to contain small fires and put them out quickly.  They made up a skit showcasing their backpack and performed it in front of judges, to demonstrate teamwork.  Then, they had to present their research findings to another panel of judges.  Then, their robot was critiqued for design and function.
Finally, the robots got to compete.
This is what the set up looked like.
The league regulated course was laid out on the center tables, where teams competed two at a time. Video of the table tops was projected on the large screen hanging in front of the curtain, so you could see the action!  The screen on the left was the scoreboard.  
 Only two programmers from each team can stand at the table during this part.  The course is set up like a natural disaster zone, with a number of obstacles-- there are Mini Figures to pull to a safety zone, a lever to release a Lego airplane suspended on a cable, etc.  The robot starts in a designated corner, the kids feverishly program it for a specific obstacle.  Then, off it goes!  It autonomously and hopefully goes where it's suppose to go, completing the mission and returning to the start corner to be programmed for the next task.  They are trying to get as many missions completed within 2 1/2 minutes.  
It was really intense (in a nerdy sort of way)!  
 Here's an action shot of ROBOFIRE pushing a supply truck and ambulance to a goal.  The teams can change out attachments on the robot to help it do different missions.  Each completed mission is worth a certain amount of points.  And, they get docked points for mishaps.
Each team gets to run their robot three times.  The best score out of the three is added to their other scores for teamwork, presentations, and research to determine the winners.
Here's a video of one of the Wildfire's rounds.  The stupid judge was standing in the way, but you can kind of see how intense it was.  
 After they age out of Lego robotics (at 14), the kids can go on to create and compete this type of robot.  Bomb Squad was the 2012 world champion and performed for the kids today.  This was pretty neat to watch as it made basket after basket.
 The FLL team from Mountain Home (where the State championship will be held next month), was invited to lead out the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade with their robot.  Isn't that awesome??  These are junior high kids!  Their team will get to travel to New York next week.  While I really hate parades, I am going to have to watch at least the beginning to cheer on our fellow FLL friends!
Even though the Wildfires didn't qualify for State, I am one proud momma.  It's pretty amazing to watch a bunch of 10-year olds doing something I have no clue about.  
Future NASA engineers at work.
I'm certain they will do even better next year as now we understand what this Lego League stuff is all about.


Jen said...

Way to go Lucy! My little feminist heart loves that she is love a team that is generally a male dominate activity. I love a smart girl.

Liz said...

Very cool! Congrats to Lucy! Will's cousin does a lot with this in Colorado where she teaches.