CASPER, Wyo. — A team of Casper-area home-schooled students in grades four through nine are bound for the FIRST LEGO League North American Open Championship next month after winning the overall award at the state championship in December.
The win and the upcoming championship on May 17-19 at LEGOLAND theme park in Carlsbad, Calif., gave the Veni Vidi Duci green team a reason to keep tinkering with their Lego robots.
“I have a lot of tweaking to do,” Sam Palmer said at a recent team practice as he tested a robot’s approach to a teetering ramp where it must balance.
Ryley Preisler struggled with jigs, plastic frames team members made to set robots off on the right trajectory. Starting off right is one of the most important, but most difficult parts, Preisler said.
Rachel Katzmann and Charity Palmer worked at combining computer programs so the team won’t have to spend extra seconds changing their robot’s programs along a course of tasks they must complete in two and a half minutes. But daisy-chaining three distinct programs into one continuous program wasn’t going so well that night, they said.
The robot’s tasks fit this year’s competition theme of improving the lives of senior citizens. So the robot’s actions include sending a dog to deliver a remote control, activating a video call, picking up a broken chair, bringing it back fixed and turning off a stove.
Besides dueling robots, the competition includes a research project. The team will present a novel idea to help the elderly: the Robomed. Team members condensed months of research into an infomercial skit for a device that dispenses medicine and reminds seniors when to take and refill their prescriptions. To identify a problem and devise their solution, team members interviewed senior citizens and medical professionals.
The competition also will test their teamwork. At the state tourney, the team was given a deck of cards with instructions to design something useful for seniors. Judges were particularly impressed with their “huddle” as team members planned a bedroom.
“We didn’t even notice we did that,” Kayla Phillips said. “We read that, and we thought it was funny,”
While trophies from competitions over the past three years fill a corner in the classroom at Casper College where the team prepares, several members said what makes them happiest about the national competition is the chance to see new things, meet new people and spend time with their friends.
“If we win something, that’ll be nice,” Palmer said. “It’s mostly just getting to go. It’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The Lego League Robotics competitions emphasize learning and finding solutions together as a team with their coaches, and cooperating with other teams even while competing, said coach Jason Katzmann. What they discover is more important than what they win, he added.
One thing they’re discovering is how to tweak details and solve problems together.
“You don’t always get it right the first time,” Rachel Katzmann said.
Team members are Katzmann, Phillips, Preisler, Charity Palmer, Samuel Palmer, Taylor Bright, Daniel Roberts and Athena Salazar.