Downingtown Team Will Compete At State Robotics Competition

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A team from Downingtown will compete at the FIRST LEGO League State Championships to be held on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the University of Delaware. Team members include (back, from left) Joseph O'Neil, Rick Archambault, Aaron Stoyack, Laura Dodds, Chloe McLewee, Lilly Zimmerman, (front) Brady Seal, Jarryd Featherman, Alex Koblish, John Kappel and (not shown) Joseph Stranen.

By Francine Fulton

A team of students from Downingtown will be among those competing at the FIRST LEGO League State Championships to be held on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the University of Delaware. It is the largest single-day robotics competition in the world.

As part of the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition, which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," FLL team members build a robot using a kit consisting of LEGO bricks and other elements such as sensors, motors and gears. During competition, the robot moves through a tabletop course on a "mission" where the robot is is required to pick up loops, jump over obstacles and knock over "challenges."

The team from Downingtown was part of an after-school class offered at Lionville Elementary School last September by the Downingtown Area Recreation Consortium (DARC).

"They met a few times a week to learn about robot design," said Marie Dodds, whose daughter, Laura, is a member of the team. "They learned how to program the robot, and (two teams of six students) built two different robots for competition. They (programmed) the robot to follow a line and use an ultrasonic sensor to detect walls."

On Jan. 9, both of the DARC robotic teams attended the FLL League regional qualifying tournament at Oxford Area High School. Thirty-seven teams, ranging in age from 9 to 14, attended the event. When all of the judging was completed, both of the DARC teams qualified for the upcoming FIRST LEGO State Championships.

At regionals, the DARC team named Mindstorm Monster "A" received a Robot Quality Award for its robot design. The Mindstorm Monster "B" team members received an Innovative Design Award for their "Mindstorm Monster Mega Arm" and a Performance Award for their second successful mission.

During competition, teams have two minutes and 30 seconds to complete each of three missions which are established by FLL. Two students run each mission using a computer program. They are not permitted to touch the robot when it is on the course, or they receive a penalty. Points are also deducted if the robot fails to pick up a loop or knocks something down.

Another part of the competition is to give an oral report about a topic. This year the program topic is transportation. Teams are also questioned by the judges about their robots, including how they were built and how they operate.

Dodds said the team of Downingtown students was familiar with LEGO robots, but they had never worked together before taking the DARC class.

"They are very young and are considered a rookie team because they never (competed) before," she said. "It is hard for a rookie team to qualify and for DARC to have both teams (do well) is impressive."

According to the Web site, the FIRST LEGO League is a program designed to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering.

"Laura (and the team) has learned so learn so much about programming and building, but also about teamwork and public speaking," Dodds said.

Right now, the team is meeting regularly at the school and at each other's homes to help prepare for the state competition. "If it's something your kids are interested in, it's a great (learning) opportunity," Dodds said, noting that if the Downingtown team does well in Delaware, it will move on to the World Festival in April to be held in Atlanta, Ga.

More information about the competition is available at the FIRST LEGO League Web site.

Downingtown-Exton Community Courier - 01/27/2010

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Photo by Francine Fulton
FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team members from Downingtown, including (from left) Aaron Stoyack, Alex Koblish, Joseph O'Neil, Brady Seal and Laura Dodds, display the robot they created and the course it must travel through during competition. The team will compete at the FIRST LEGO State Championships to be held on Saturday, Jan. 30, at the University of Delaware.

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