FLL LEGO Robot from FIRST website

FLL LEGO Robot from FIRST website

This year’s FLL theme is WORLD CLASS, which focuses on education and different learning styles. Research projects are more open-ended this year. The great presentations at the Troy, Michigan local tournament November 15 ranged from a computer game for first-generation immigrants to experience America before arriving to extensive research on kindergarten bullying.

As usual, the robot competition is exciting and competitive. Robot designs at the Troy qualifying tournament ranged from simple and effective to complex. Many designs were well-documented, some with engineering notebooks. Teams displayed their knowledge of the competition with good strategies for scoring the most points. Team spirit abounded, with custom T-shirts, smiles and enthusiastic participation.

The Troy tournament was again hosted by the 70-member FRC team 226 from both Troy High Schools, whose Shark robot launched T-shirts into the crowd during the opening ceremonies. The team members, advisors and parents served in many different capacities. You can watch the video on their website to get a flavor for last year’s qualifying competition.

Qualifying and State Tournament Details

Other tournaments held Saturday were West Bloomfield, Allen Park and Detroit. Several qualifying tournaments have yet to be held: Nov. 22 in Novi, Grandville, Zealand, and Monroe; Dec 6 in Sterling Heights, Sault Ste. Marie, Freeland and Grand Rapids.

Teams that advance to the state competition from southeast Michigan will compete Saturday, December 6 in the state tournament at Monroe High School, 901 Herr Road in Monroe. A second state tournament will be held at Carman-Ainsworth Middle School, 1409 W. Maple Avenue in Flint December 13 for teams qualifying from other tournaments, mostly in the north and west parts of Michigan.

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, FIRST LEGO League  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.

This year’s theme is education, called World Class. Here is an article with pictures about the 2012 Senior Solutions, to help senior citizens stay active, engaged and connected. The pictures and other details with the article give a flavor for the competition. See also the FLL video on the FRC team 226 link. (It shows the fun aspect, but rest assured, there’s plenty of hard work involved before the competition day!)

Each year there is 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.

Size and Scope of FLL

High school robotics teams and many others volunteer to make FIRST LEGO League happen. FLL has grown to over 27,000 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 LEGO League World Festival at the FIRST Championship in St. Louis, MO, April 22-25, 2015.

FIRST High School Programs

Dean Kamen’s goal is to see every high school in America have a robotics team. For the 2015 season (January-April) FIRST is projecting 75,000 students on 3000 FRC teams worldwide. Many Michigan high schools have teams, thanks to sponsors from the auto industry and other corporate sponsors.

Combining all of FIRST’s programs: FRC, FIRST Tech Challenge, FLL, and Jr. FLL,

  • 400,000+ students
  • 38,700+ teams
  • 34,000+ robots
  • 90,000+ Mentors/adult supporter roles filled
  • 90,000+ other Volunteer roles filled (e.g. event Volunteers, Affiliate Partners, VISTAs)

Open to the Public

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

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

Robot Dynasties

Younger kids can excel, too! Elementary school teams from Northville and Novi have done especially well in past tournaments. Homeschool teams have also done well. Middle schools and high schools will benefit later on from strong FLL programs and parental involvement with the younger age groups. It doesn’t take an engineer to be a mentor, just someone who cares about kids: provide them guidance and turn them loose!

FIRST is achieving its goal of igniting passions for excellence, in whatever field young people feel called to, whether it’s in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math), or some other field.