In its first competition ever, a robotics team from Olive Peirce Middle School has taken home a first-place trophy in a tournament held at Legoland in Carlsbad.
The team, called the Ramona Knights, took the top prize in the Robot Design category and was ninth overall out of 52 teams from all over Southern California.
“When the team received the trophy, the presenter said that our students ‘wowed the judges’ with their design,” said Jackie Miller, a substitute teacher in Ramona who coaches the team.
Miller’s son, Miles, a 13-year-old in the eighth grade, is the team captain.
“I can’t say enough about Miles,” said Jaime Nelson, grant facilitator for after-school programs at Olive Peirce. “He has really pulled it together and got the other kids interested.
“We just introduced robotics last winter and the competitive team didn’t come together until September. And look what they have accomplished. I am so proud of all of them. They are a wonderful group of kids.”
A team from Ramona Community School also participated, but, as of Sunday, parent/coach Joyce Ryan did not know where the team placed.
The Legoland competition, in its 11th year, is a joint effort by the Lego Company and a nonprofit organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.)
FIRST was founded by New Hampshire inventor Dean Kamen, best known for designing the two-wheeled Segway. His goal is to inspire young people to become interested and involved in science and technology.
In the robotics event, all teams start with the same “brain,” a programmable sensor block called Lego Mindstorms.
“The kids program the brain on a computer, using a USB wire that plugs into the robot,” Miller explained. “Then the kids build the wheels, put gears on the wheels and build the body so it can move to complete a mission.
“For example, it may need to have enough power to go up a ramp, but be short enough to go under a bridge. A lot of forethought has to go into the design.”
In the competition, teams have three two-and-one-half-minute rounds to complete a series of missions on an obstacle course, scoring points for every successful mission. In a single round, only two students control the robot, which looks more like a lunar lander than a humanoid figure.
Miller believes that her role is “to facilitate and make sure they know the rules and the missions they are supposed to do.” But she leaves all the decisions up to the 12 seventh- and eighth-graders on the Ramona Knights.
“At first they want to use all the fancy things, like light and sound sensors, but learn that you can’t do fancy in two and a half minutes. You have to do quick and simple,” Miller said. “They come full circle and figure it out for themselves, and then they can move forward as a team.”
“It’s really fun to build the robots to do different things,” Miles said. “And there’s a lot of math involved. You have to figure out how many rotations you need and the degree you want the motor to rotate and how far forward do you want it to go.”
He estimated that his team was able to complete about nine missions per round at the FIRST Lego League tournament on Dec. 6.
Miller believes that the best thing about robotics is that it gives students who are scientifically minded, but maybe not athletically inclined, a chance to have a team experience.
“This is a real team atmosphere,” she said. “Parents are standing with signs and high fives and it’s loud. It’s a true sports competition.”