The USA Melting Pot Club has added a new channel on the left side of their website for FIRST LEGO League and will soon be posting articles to help new teams get started. Visit the site often for new information posted there as well as information on hobbies and cultures of other countries written by those with firsthand knowledge.

Here’s another article with an Overview of FLL. The article gives an overview of FLL and the 2014 competition, which centered on education.

Below is an article about the 2012 FLL competition (Senior Solutions):

FLL’s 2.5 minute autonomous LEGO robot competition theme in 2012 was Senior Solutions: to help seniors stay independent, engaged and connected.

Five Troy teams competed Saturday, December 1, 2012 in the Michigan FIRST LEGO League state tournament at Lakeland High School, 1630 Bogie Lake Road in White Lake. Each team already competed and advanced from a regional competition.

In 2012 LEGO robot powerhouse Northville had eight teams competing, East Lansing five and Shelby Township four. With three teams each were Bloomfield Hills and Novi. Other local teams from Rochester Hills, Sterling Heights and West Bloomfield competed with teams from as far away as Grand Blanc, Temperance and St. Johns. Here is a list of all teams who advanced.

A second state tournament was held at Carman-Ainsworth Middle School, 1409 W. Maple Avenue in Flint December 8 for teams qualifying from tournaments at Flint, Marquette, Grandville, Holland, Traverse City, Freeland and Sault Ste. Marie.

What is FIRST LEGO League?

Started in 1998 from the successful FIRST Robotics Competition for high school students, which was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen, FLL engages 9-16 year olds (9-14 in North America) with real life engineering problem solving and brainstorming skills. Kamen invented the Segway scooter and less well known inventions like a water purification system for developing countries.

Autonomous LEGO Mindstorms robots are designed, built and programmed by teams of 5-10 to solve a different complicated puzzle each year. Two teams compete side by side for two and a half minutes to score as many points as possible. Robots navigate by following lines with light sensors, bumping into walls with touch sensors, or using dead reckoning with time or rotation sensors.

Each Year a Different Competition

Already the FIRST staff in New Hampshire is brainstorming ideas for next year’s competition. They take pride in designing the game to prevent perfect scores, which were consistently achieved by some teams in the past.

Each year there is a different mat and table set up on a pair of four by eight sheets of plywood next to each other. Usually there is a scoring opportunity in the center where the robot that gets there first gets the points.

Not just for Math and Science

Although most kids are passionate about scoring maximum points in the robot competition, there is much more to it. Gracious professionalism and helping other teams are emphasized.

Communication skills and being comfortable presenting your ideas to adults can help any child discover his or her calling. 25% of the scoring for the FLL competition is the Project Presentation, and of course there is the Technical Interview, where the team explains their robot design, programming and scoring strategy.

The 2012 theme was Senior Solutions, to help senior citizens stay active, engaged and connected. Each year has a different theme, where students pick a science project to work on and present. The 2011 theme was Food Factor, where some aspect of getting food safely from farm to grocery store was explored.

Discovering your Vocation

Not many nowadays go beyond trading time for money at a job. To be really fulfilled we need to return to the idea of discovering our calling – the Latin origin of the word vocation.

FLL hits on an ideal recipe for that for young people, with the game value and competition aspect to ignite passion. It encourages entrepreneurial thinking – outside the box solutions to problems.

Maybe students will end up with the never-say-die attitude of America’s most prolific inventor. When his New Jersey laboratories burned to the ground in 1914, 67 year old Thomas Edison said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

Caution – Can be Habit Forming for Adults

After coaching a team when our kids were in that age bracket and doing Arctic Impact (global warming), City Sights (infrastructure of cities), Ocean Odyssey, Mission Mars and No Limits (helping people overcome handicaps), it feels good to give back by being a judge for a day to see months of hard work of the students and encourage them.

The metro Detroit robotics community is especially tight-knit, with several champion FRC teams and dedicated teacher and engineer mentors who make OCCRA happen in the fall. Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association is a less-expensive version of FRC where the students are required to do all the design and construction with limits on machine shop involvement.

Once bitten by the racing bug and seeing the kids’ enthusiasm for it, parents, teachers and engineers sometimes stay involved for years.

I looked forward to saying hello to the head referee from 2011. His daughter was on the Dragon Devils state champion team from Royal Oak and was about to graduate from college in engineering. Refereeing the game is too intense a commitment for me, since the teams know the rules inside out, have spent hours figuring out the best way to score points, and sometimes even correct officials on the field setup.

Size and Scope of FLL

High school robotics teams and many others volunteer to make FIRST LEGO League happen. FLL has grown to over 20,000 teams from nearly or all 50 U.S. states and 70 countries. The state champion teams and top teams from overseas are invited to the FIRST Robotics Championships each year.

Dean Kamen’s goal is to see every high school in America have a robotics team. Currently there are 52,000 students on 2600 teams worldwide. Many Michigan high schools have teams, thanks to sponsors from the auto industry and other corporate sponsors.

Events are Open to the Public

Come on out for a few hours and see some interesting science projects and an exciting robot competition. Events are free and open to the public.

Parents will want to consider this as an opportunity for their kids. FIRST even has a Junior FLL program tailored for 6-8 year olds.

Message for Students

Here is some of FIRST’s information given to the students in 2012:

“KEEP IN MIND: You LOVE a senior. You will BE a senior. The Senior SolutionsSM challenge is about concepts that affect everyone, directly and indirectly, both now and later.

Seniors need and want the same things they did when they were young – the same things YOU want. They want to be:

INDEPENDENT – to do what they want, when they want, the way they want (no matter where they live)

ENGAGED – to feel needed, and productive, and to have fun

CONNECTED – to have meaningful relationships with family and friends

Seniors have wisdom and perspective, from a full lifetime of experience. The problem is that the older we get, the more difficult life gets. We lose strength, speed, flexibility, and memory. Our hearing, eye sight, and other senses are diminished.

It’s harder to get around. Health problems creep in. Loved ones pass away. New technologies are unfamiliar to us…

In the Senior Solutions robot game, you and your robot will manage a mix of challenges and activities related to being independent, engaged, or connected. None of them really has to do with being “old,” but a few of them have a harder version and an easier version. As you notice how much harder the hard versions are, and design your robot to master them, imagine what innovative technical designs and improvements you could make in real life that would make life easier for seniors – for your loved ones, and for your future self!”