09252017 Headline:

Enter the Lego-Bots

Young robotics students eat up the competition

By Ian Gibson

The FLL teams robot on the practice field with Kirk Cieszkiewicz and Mr. DeSilva, photo by Max Wienke

The First Lego League (FLL) team, assisted by Skunkworks Robotics students, is working through their build season leading up to their competitions.[a]

The unique robotic challenge for the team this year relates to foods seen in everyday life because this year’s theme is the Food Factor.  So each team will have a project focused on solving a problem the food industry faces, as well as making a robot that can traverse an obstacle course representing different steps types of food go through before reaching the dinner table.

“The food project was excellent this year,” an AHS student mentoring the students, Grace Cieszkiewicz said, “especially given the fact that it helped the kids in FLL to think about solving real world problems at length just as an engineer would.”

Team members are invited to look around to see the sources of everyday foods.  Each member made a journal recording the types of food they consume.  This concerned the Ground, Harvest, Processing, Distribution, Preparation, and the Table for each meal.  They are asked questions like: What type of food is it? How does it get to my table? What are the environments it has been exposed to?  These questions lead the students to work on a study making them more aware of their environment, the processes foods go through, and the effect the food eventually has on their health.

Once they become aware of the food they eat, they are asked to pick an issue currently plaguing the food industries.  In this case the group picked a dangerous strand of E. coli.

“They are looking at the precess that beef undergoes from the farm to the grocery store,” said an Aviation High School (AHS) student Paula Cieszkiewicz, “basically just to understand the possible ways for E. coli to spread.”

Following research into the issue the students work together to form a solution to the problem.  

The project concludes with the team forming a presentation that will be given to a panel of judges at a tournament.  They will be asked to include the food they chose and how it would get to a dinner table, information on the work of a professional in their area of choice, and the research they did and information sources.  The team is also required to make their presentation in 5 or less minutes.

The primary competition is the teams’ construction and programming of their robot.  The team chose to use two drive wheels with a tricycle propulsion system as it proved more effective for making accurate turns.  Several manipulating arms were constructed that can be switched out between the competition stages.  Several levers had to be manipulated to drop contents into a carrying container on the robot, as well as a claw that could pick up and move several items.  After the robot’s construction several of the team members work with their programing system to construct all of the robots actions on the playing field.

Paula Cieszkiewicz explained that the team has been working very hard because they have their competition coming up very soon.  To finish in time the team has split their work into working on two separate robots, this allows their programing team to work twice as fast.  Being broken into two groups they are able to program two of the robots tasks at the same time.

The team was provided with a diagram and list describing everything necessary to create a field of play for their robot to work on.  It includes several items the robot is to pick up, move, and navigate around.

The robot game reflects the Food Factor theme of the year.  There are 15 missions with varying values of points their robot will need to fulfill.  Each mission reenacts a step that a variety of foods go through before they reach the dinner table.

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