The Blockheads, a "weekend team" consisting of four Cranston boys has returned from the 12th Annual FIRST LEGO Robotics Championship, hosted by Roger Williams University on Saturday, Jan. 12. The team placed second overall.
"By placing second in the Champion’s Award, they were invited to the 2013 FLL North American Open Championship at LEGOLAND California in May and they will be attending the 2013 FLL North American Championship tournament," said coach Steven Baker, one of the three coaches for the Blockheads.
The team is made up of Oak Lawn Elementary fifth grader Adam Santerre, Oaklawn sixth grader Matthew Levin and Western Hills seventh graders Matthew Baker and Jared Santerre. The boys have been working together as a team for three years, with the exception of Adam, who has been with the team for two years, according to Levin.
"One year, our first year, we got the award for 'Best Overall Robot,'" he said.
Although the team has been together for some time, boys must start over from scratch each year with a new competition.
"Each year there are all different missions in the competition," said Jared.
This year, according to the directives from FIRST LEGO, the teams were required to "build and program an autonomous robot using LEGO MINDSTORMS to solve a set of missions on the playing field."
Fourteen missions in all were required this year, and a 93" x 45" table was set up on which the teams would compete, completing their missions in a timed, somewhat tense, setting.
Coach Chris Santerre explains how the point system works.
"Each mission is given a number of points. The boys have to look at every mission and figure out ideas for how to solve them first, before they even pick up a LEGO," he said.
In addition to the actual building of the robot, the teams must address a specific challenge that is set out by the competition, and solve problems related to the challenge, presenting their research project at the competition as well.
The program guide explains that SENIOR SOLUTIONS is a “three-part challenge exploring the topic of aging and how it may affect a person's ability to maintain his or her lifestyle, solving issues like getting around, keeping touch or staying fit. Through the project, the teams research obstacles and then suggest ways to improve the quality of life for seniors, helping them to stay independent, engaged and connected.”
Missions address the obstacles seniors face or an activity intended to keep them independent.
As a weekend team, the boys meet for anywhere from three to six hours on Saturdays and Sundays leading up to the competition, beginning the second weekend in September, according to Larry Levin, another coach for the team.
"On December 2 we qualified for the state tournament, which was new this year,” he said. “They haven't had to qualify before, but it gave them a unique opportunity to make any adjustments to their robot if they needed to.”
Once they qualified for the January event, the boys became one of 40 teams participating. Teams consisted of both boys and girls ages 9 to 14 hailing from nearby Massachusetts and across Rhode Island.
Larry Levin is proud of his team, but noted that it isn’t winning that motivates them.
"It's them having fun. It's the smiles on their faces," he said.
For more information on starting a LEGO team, visit www.risf.net.