Boys gain in Lego League
By David McPherson
When I joined a First Lego League team I was interested in robotics and wanted to get some hands-on experience. First Lego League was a good choice.
It first began when we received the package with the NXT in August. A few of us met and worked on the sample provided. Constructing it gave us a good idea of how the robot worked. At our next meeting an engineer visited from our sponsor, Chattanooga Engineers Club.
He explained the rules of the competition to us and showed us a video of a previous competition. That was also the meeting where we met the people who would be participating; there were 30 people in all and we split up into five teams. Our team, Cyber Thunder, first met in September as soon as the challenges were released.
At our first meeting we built the playing field our robot would run on. We downloaded instructions for building the mission pieces and put them onto two computers so that two groups could work on building at once.
It was a long process, but by the end of the day most of the board was completed.
At the secone meeting we were ready to start building the robot. There was a programming team and a building team. I was on the building team. We designed a simple robot that could drive and that had a claw on the front to push balls around.
Meanwhile the programming team had created a simple program to push a ball into a designated area. Although it was a simple program, the robot had trouble; instead of going straight it kept bumping into the wall. We didn’t have time to fix it before we adjourned the second meeting. At the third gathering, we dismantled the robot and started over from the beginning, this time the programming team created a program to push a whole line of balls into the area. We tested it, and· the robot didn’t turn properly. The programming team tinkered on and tried it again. This process was repeated many times until we got it just right. Every meeting we created new features and new programs. Each time we overcame one problem until gradually our robot was perfected.
Through this whole time we had to create our presentation. First we had to decide what our topic would be. This year it had to be related to climate. We decided we would talk about energy efficiency. The next step was research. We all went home to research what we had been assigned, whether it was CFLs or solar panels. I researched some gizmos and gadgets that created energy. Some ideas never came to pass — solar oven or the plasma converting trashcan.
We selected a topic and drafted our speeches. They had to be really short because we were restricted to 5 minutes altogether and each of us only had 30 seconds for our speech. After an introduction by our team captain, we all did our bit. My friend and I were in charge of the lawn mower presentation. It was fun.
After three months of research, building and programming our robot, the Steve 2000, was ready for action. Our robot could execute 7 of the missions for the competition and we felt pretty good about our presentation. We started out for the competition at 6 o’clock in the morning and drove two hours to arrive at our destination, Cookville, Tenn.
We had an hour until the competition so we used that time to practice with the robot on one of the boards they had set out for that purpose. We also went around to meet other team members who gave us goodies such as business cards or candy. (We learned that this is a way for teams to show team spirit. If you are going to do FLL remember to bring things to give away.) We also watched other teams’ robots perform and studied their posters.
Our robot performed its mission three times. On our last run we accidentally accomplished a mission we hadn’t programmed! That gave us a serious boost in points. We also gave our oral presentation. We learned that as soon as you enter the performance room they start the 5-minute time, so be prepared.
The competition ended with an awards ceremony. We were surprised to place third for robot performance. Our team members were overjoyed.
The Soddy-Daisy homeschool team Power Surge placed third in project presentation. Nice going. Signal Mountain fielded two homeschool teams; East Brainerd had one team; and many members of the St. Elmo team were homeschoolers. Watch the Esprit for announcement about the new season in September.