Self-directed robots run the show for young participants
Teams of young scientists from all over Colorado gathered inside the Balch Fieldhouse and Carlson Gymnasium Saturday to compete in the FIRST LEGO League’s Nano Quest, the Colorado LEGO Championship. CU helped sponsor the event.
Team “MeteorStorm” came in first place, “Team #1″ came in second place, and the “Highland Hills Highlanders” from Fort Collins came in third place in the Nano Quest this year.
FIRST is an acronym that stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. It has teamed up with the LEGO group to create this program to help young people discover the fun in science and technology while building confidence, knowledge and life skills.
“We hope to get the kids engaged in science, technology and mathematics at an early age. We want to get them excited about the subjects and fathom them as a possible career path,” said Jenny Golder, a graduate student in electrical engineering and the director of the event.
Over 800 people, both spectators and participants, occupied the gym as teams from different schools and organizations battled to win top honors in not only LEGO building, but in science and technology. There were two competitions: The FIRST LEGO League for 9 to 14 year-olds and The Junior LEGO League for 6 to 9 year-olds.
“I thought that it was just going to be a competition with a bunch of kids building random structures with LEGOs, but it was so much more intense than that,” said Tommy Morris, a junior journalism major. “I’m impressed.”
Golder said the program has grown 61 percent since last year.
This year, 70 teams competed in the championship. Teams had approximately three months to design, build, program and test a robot made entirely of LEGOs with help from a special LEGO package they must purchase. The robots must be programmed to complete tasks without the help of a remote control.
At the competition, teams brought their self-directed robots in to compete in challenges. For example, the robots were challenged to operate a space elevator made of LEGOs.
Teams had 2.5 minutes per round to complete as many challenges with their robots as they could, in any order. Each team competes in six rounds and keeps the best score from the first three rounds and the two best scores from the second three rounds.
Not only are the teams scored on their robot’s performance but also on good design, quality, innovation and teamwork.
“Each team also has to do a research project, so they’ll be judged on that and for many other areas like creative presentation, overall project and teamwork,” said Ross Parent, a sponsor of the competition and a volunteer.
Ross said the program is quickly growing. There are over 8,000 teams worldwide. In addition to the competitions for children and pre-teens, there is also the First Robotics Competition. The Fist Robotics Competition gives high school students the opportunity to win scholarships.
“It’s all about trying to get the kids to recognize that with engineering you can really accomplish stuff and be proud of yourself,” Ross said.
Each team had different shirt designs and a team name. A team calling itself the “Leo-Nanos” wore medieval attire featuring paper hats and crowns. Members of “The People’s Pink Pupils” wore headbands with eyeballs attached to them and stuck squiggly eyes to their faces.
Ellery Goeltzenleuchter, a seventh grade student from Blevins Junior High School, has participated in the competition for five years. His team, “Legopoluza,” is from Fort Collins.
“I like to do the competition because I’m really looking to pursue a career in science or engineering in the future,” Goeltzenleuchter said.
Ella Lamay, an eighth grader from Colorado Springs working with the “Timberwolves,” said she would be happy with taking away the trophy made entirely of LEGOs and a good score. She mentioned that her team was having a rough time in the competition this year.
“Yesterday, we had a really long practice to make sure everything was working right, but we got here and three of our missions have already malfunctioned,” Lamay said. “We’re just trying to pull everything together.”
As the kids participated in the competition and worked on their projects, parents and spectators cheered and offered encouragement from the sidelines.
“It was nice to see kids having fun and doing educational activities on a Saturday morning,” Morris said. “They didn’t have these competitions when I was playing with LEGOs.”
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