Last weekend I visited the Maine State Championship for FIRST Lego League which is run by a group of volunteers in an organization called Maine Robotics. They had about 500 students (grades 3 to 8) who were part of 62 teams competing to win some interesting trophies. There was quite a lot of excitement throughout the day. I’ve been to FLL events before and every time I go I am impressed with the results students are demonstrating.
I watched several matches and was impressed with the focus students had. The event consists of several parts including a presentation to judges of student projects, research done on the year’s topic and the actual running of an autonomous robot on a playing field.
As you can see on this photo of a practice filed there are many objects on the table and there are tasks that robots have to complete on the field. For each task the students have created a specific program and designed a hardware configuration. The robots will run one program and return to a “base” where a student will set up the next program and reconfigure the robot for that task. Things have to be done quickly as there is a two minute limit for the whole set of tasks. Students are dealing with a lot of stress and it only gets worse when things go wrong as invariably they do. I watched students shake off frustration and keep moving in order to get as much done in the time left.
FLL is just one competition run by FIRST Robotics BTW. This year, well, the 2012 season, the largest robots (FRC – FIRST Robotics Challenge) will be able to use a Kinect to control their robots. I’m pretty excited about that. Yeah, I’m a FIRST Fan. But most of all I am hoping to see some really cool applications for the Kinect from FIRST teams. These are some of the most creative out of the box thinkers I run into. And I run into a lot of creative out of the box thinker.
Does your school have a robotics team? if not FIRST is well worth checking out.
I went to watch the Illinois Regional FLL competition last weekend at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and I was similarly impressed with what these grade-school kids are accomplishing. What's also impressive is how the teachers and parents stand aside and truly let the kids be the competitors. All the kids were working together very well within their teams. I only saw one or two instances where a teacher was maybe a bit over-involved in giving advice and direction.
This spring we'll be trying *Junior* FLL for the first time with my first grader and his classmates. Looking forward to see how that will go.