Hundreds of aspiring young scientists descended on Durham College recently for the 2016 FIRST LEGO League Ontario East Provincial Championships. The event brought 40 teams of elementary students aged nine to 14 together to pitch their autonomous robots, built from LEGO pieces, against each other in a series of challenges.
Justine Lam, a student from Forest Hill P.S. in Toronto, said her team, “Batteries Not Included,” had a small chance of winning at its first time at the provincial championships.
“It’s about the experience. It’s not whether we get placed or not. We’re just going to try our best,” said Lam.
FIRST LEGO League is a non-profit organization created by Dean Kamen with a goal of inspiring young minds to love science, technology and mathematics with a view to choosing it as an exciting and engaging career choice.
Dave Ellis, director of the FIRST LEGO League, has been involved with the organization for 12 years.
“We celebrate our sports heroes and our movie stars, but we don’t celebrate our technology stars,” said Ellis. “There was nothing to get kids excited about technology. There was no event where kids got to be inspired.”
Ellis explained the program has three components.
First there is a research project where the students research a problem relating to the annual theme. This year’s theme is Animal Allies.
Examples of some of the projects submitted include an app, which tracks lost pets through an electronic collar, a weighing machine for dogs which spits out the appropriate portion of food dependent on the animal’s weight, and a dehumidifier for a beehive.
The second component is the robot design where the teams design, build and program autonomous LEGO robots to perform a series of missions.
Lastly, the students are encouraged to develop core values which include life skills which honour the spirit of friendly competition and respect.
There were cheers, whistles and even some tears from the hundreds of supporting teams, parents and coaches who crowded around the corral surrounding the competition tables, as the robots bumped around the courses.
Austin and Mackenzie Bailey and David Feenstra are three home-schooled students who travelled from Kingston to take part in the challenge. Their “Home Grown” team is so concerned about the depleting honey bee population that they designed a dehumidifier to attach to a standard hive.
The simple idea adds an extra layer full of wood shavings and a black painted roof which allows moisture and heat to escape through vents. Together with a thermostatically-controlled heating mat, the hive is kept dry and mite-free which prevents disease infecting the colony.
The winner of the event moves to the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in St. Louis, in April.