MIDDLE ISLAND, NY, Jan. 20—Most kids play with Legos at some point during their childhood, but a select few gifted children use the toys to compete. Windham, NH’s “Nerds” played best, using nanotechnology to make a robot made from only Lego products perform tasks from everyday life.
Brookhaven Labs and Battelle, as well as the School-Business Partnership of Long Island, sponsored the Lego Tournament. Longwood High School provided space for the event free of charge.
The Lego League Tournament starts in September, when FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) announces the theme of the challenge for the year. This year’s challenge was to apply the science of nanotechnology to everyday life in a creative manner.
The robots were built to accomplish a variety of goals, called “missions.” For example, the robot would act out “individual atom manipulation” by removing a white lego from a plane surface without disturbing other lego “atoms” around it.
Another goal was the test of “nanotube strength.” This required the Lego robot to lift a truck on an “elevator,” which was a thin carbon cable. The robot had to first move the truck onto the elevator frame, and then activate the lift.
The Nerds from Windham, N.H., traveled to Middle Island to compete in the First Lego League (FLL) Tournament. They were the only team not from Long Island to compete Sunday.
The FLL allows children from ages 9 to 14 to solve “real world” problems by using math, science and Legos, according to its press release. The children organize in after school clubs with mentors and coaches, who assist them as they research, build and compete with the robots.
The robots are made only from Lego products. “The children receive a kit of products, and they can only use what is in the kit,” said Janet Anderson, Director of LI-FIRST. “The kits are made by Lego.”
Robotics teams have programmers, builders and researchers. “We type in what we want the robot to do on a program called Robolab on the computer, and then we upload it onto the RCX Box, which is attached to the motors on the wheels of the robot,” said Christopher, 12, of Longwood Junior High School. “The program tells the robot what to do.”
Builders provide a pivotal role for the robotics team. “We build the robots and bring them to the tournament,” said Mike, 13, from Beach Street Middle School. “In the beginning, it is more about following instructions, but later on, it takes on a more creative approach.”
Coaches provide guidance for the children. “We reinforce teamwork and individual thinking,” said Tom Larsen, Assistant Coach for Beach Street Middle School. “We teach the children to solve problems as well.”
Judges determined the scores, who based them on four criteria: project presentation, robot performance, technical design and programming of the robot, and teamwork. Referees oversaw the competition. Each mission also had a previously specified point value.
The Nerds dominated the tournament throughout, routing the thirty-three other schools in every round. Rank was determined by taking the highest score of the three rounds, and The Nerds’ high score was 347, far outpacing the second-place “Brooker-bots” from Stony Brook, who had a high score of 231.
Stony Brook School, a private institution, sent a second team to the tournament. This team, the “Stony-bots,” also was in the top ten, placing ninth with a high score of 160.
North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place sent two teams; both share the same nickname, except one is English (Techno Panthers) and the other is Spanish (Pantrero-de-Techno). “Techno Panthers” came in 5th place with a high score of 184, and “Pantrero-de-Techno” placed 30th.
Mt. Sinai Middle School fielded a team as well; the “MS Stangbots” placed 11th. Boyle Road Elementary School’s “SPBoyled Bots” from Port Jefferson Station placed 20th.
Teams received awards even if their robot did not win the competition. Another component of the tournament was a research contest, and the team with the best and most practical research won an award. Teams won awards for excellent teamwork and for “rising stars” in the Lego League.