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Tackling challenges with Lego robotics
February 02, 2013, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal staff

If given the challenge of building a robot that can knock down pins, demonstrate strength and reunite "quilt" pieces made from Legos, which challenge would be the most important to accomplish?

Those are some of the many challenges on a table created for those competing in the First Lego League Robotics challenge this year. Each task is tied to this year's theme, Senior Solutions. For example, a robot must pick the correct medication, push the Lego dog that's holding a remote while on a skateboard and help set up a gardening area by programming a robot made from Legos.

Each task represents points a team can earn. But the team can also lose points if tasks aren't completed correctly. Basically the 9- to 14-year-olds taking part in the FLL challenges need to decide what's important.

For Team M, a group of 11- and 12-year-old friends from four different local middle schools, height challenges didn't make the priority list but the hope of knocking down mini bowling pins was a fun bonus.

It's a challenge of weighing the points versus time, said 12-year-old John Robinson, a Bowditch Middle School student on Team M.

This weekend, Team M will be one of more than 40 Bay Area teams to compete in the NorCal FLL Championships at Sequoia High School. Each year, the students are given a theme. Teams compete in different areas of senior-related projects including researching the challenges for seniors and possible solutions; core values, such as solving the challenge together, demonstrating team skills and strategies; and robot design when the team will show the judges the best physical features, discuss their programs and table challenge strategies.

After working with those three judges, students have two and a half minutes to complete as many tasks as possible. Before starting, students get one practice round.

This week is all about perfecting, well, everything. But getting to that part took time and lots of work.

When given the challenge, the students interviewed a number of seniors, said 11-year-old Alex Wong, who goes to Borel Middle School. They noticed a number of those interviewed mentioned problems with medications, said 12-year-old Calandra Saidin who attends Bayside STEM Academy. Their solution was a pill box that would help people sort medication and take the right amount at the right time, said 12-year-old Callum Keddie who attends Ralston Middle School.

They designed a pill box that allows a person to scan medication. The box would then light up where those pills would go in the pill box which has corresponding days of the week available. It would also scan to be sure that the right amount of pills were put in. Then, a wristwatch would act as a reminder for the user to take the pills first by vibrating and then by giving a prerecorded voice reminder, explained 12-year-old Sophia Leon Guerrero, who attends Borel Middle School.

A skit explaining the idea and how it works must be under five minutes. But that's only part of the task for the students. There's also the robot obstacle course, which could result in more than 700 points. Given the tasks Team M's robot, Bellatrix, is programmed to attempt, the middle schoolers are hoping to achieve between 410 to 470 points to go toward their final score.

The competition will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3 at Sequoia High School, 1201 Brewster Ave., Redwood City. It is free and open to the public. Those interested in volunteering with the organization as a local mentor or judge can attend to learn more.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105

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