When Brian Francis attended an open house for Kickemuit Middle School, a few LEGO Robotics participants were there, presenting information about the program.
That year, the KMS team had built a chain reaction robot, and instantly, “I was hooked,” said the KMS sixth-grader.
“I think it’s really, really cool,” he said, “and very fun.”
Brian joined the school’s Robotics team this year, and competed with his group Jan. 11 at the FIRST Lego League Championship Tournament at Roger Williams University. Brian’s team, SAFE INK, was one of 40 teams from around Rhode Island that competed in Saturday’s day-long event.
Other East Bay teams included OVERFLOW and TECH-NO-LOGIC, from Barrington Middle School; The Woofers and the Flaming Ninja Cheezits, Barrington neighborhood teams; Storm Stoppers, a sixth-grade group from Bristol’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School; Valkyrie, Spartans and Nerd Herd, all from Portsmouth’s St. Philomena School; Brick Busters, from Portsmouth Middle School; and Robo-Storm, a Portsmouth neighborhood team.
“The team felt their presentations went well in the morning,” said Wendy Bennet, coach of The Woofers. “On the robot challenge, they improved their score in each of the three rounds, fine-tuning the robot to overcome some initial problems, and ended up with a high of 218. This was an improvement vs what they achieved last year, the first year for the team.”
FIRST Lego League challenges kids to understand the problems and to create their own solutions. This year’s annual theme is Nature’s Fury. The teams learned about natural disasters and creating innovative ways to help communities predict, prepare for and recover from these terrible events.
The kids were judged on three criteria: effectiveness of the robot to execute its mission, teamwork (core values), and their project associated with the program’s theme.
“We thought it would be helpful to have a box that tells you when all the natural disasters are coming,” said Brandon Gaskell, from team Storm Stoppers, of the group’s project. The Storm Stoppers named their robot SIK, which stands for Sandy, Irene and Katrina — several storms that have devastated the U.S. over the past decade.
The teams’ robots had to be capable of driving over a flooded road, broken tree limbs (debris), push an ambulance to safety, bring a pet back home, and dissipate a typhoon — all simulated with Legos.
“I really liked robots and engineering,” said Dylan Solly, from team Brick Busters, which named their robot BOT. “We thought of something simple, a simple design, and just added two forks to the front.”
Through the Robotic’s challenge, Dylan and his team learned about wildfires. For their project, they created a underground shelter built of gypsum board, and stocked with non-perishable food items.
“It’s similar to a tornado shelter, but for those who live in areas prone to wildfires,” said Becky Silveira, coach of the Brick Busters.
Addison Cox and his team, Valkyrie, studied avalanches for their project. They created a tool using the same hydraulics of gold pounding equipment.
“The seismic vibrations calmed the mountain,” he said.
Barrington’s team OVERFLOW won the overall competition, winning the Champions Award and placing first in the Robot Competition. This was the second time the school won the competition. The school’s team, Lego Waffles, won the initial Championship when FIRST Lego started in Rhode Island in 2001. The scenario then was Arctic Challenge.
“We’re all on cloud 9,” said Lisa McGartoll, coach of team OVERFLOW.
OVERFLOW designed an app that locates fire hydrants in the event a snow storm buries them. They interviewed Barrington Fire Chief Gerald Bessette, as well as other firefighters from area departments, to assist them in developing the app.
“It’s not marketable yet, but they’ve tested it out and it works,” she said.
Team Robo-Storm also won a Project Presentation Award and Youth Mentor Award (Nick Grande).