The LEGOnardo Da Vincis, a group of seven young robot enthusiasts from the Santa Barbara Homeschool Robotics Academy, competed in a FIRST LEGO League regional qualifying tournament held last weekend at Cal Lutheran University.

Out of the 28 teams participating in the event, the Santa Barbara team achieved the highest robot performance score. The LEGOnardo DaVincis also won a trophy for best robot mechanical design. As a result of their performance, the team will advance to the upcoming Los Angeles Region FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament.

As part of FLL competitions, each team has three opportunities to operate their robot autonomously on a performance table in a 2½-minute round to achieve as many missions as possible. In addition to robot performance and design, the teams are also judged on a research project presentation as well as core values (teamwork/sportsmanship).

The Santa Barbara Homeschool Robotics Academy brings homeschooled kids ages 9 to 14 together once a year to participate in the FLL annual challenge. The academy was founded by Suzan and Craign Christenson — the husband/wife team form and coach a new team each year.

The FLL program creates an opportunity for kids to learn engineering principles, computer programming, strategic planning, problem solving and team building in a hands-on, fun environment.

“When the kids are doing something they are passionate about and having fun, the learning process accelerates,” Suzan Christenson said. “The tournaments bring teams together to compete, but also to share ideas on how different approaches are used to solve the mission challenges. Although the robots are all assembled from a standard LEGO Mindstorms kit, the rules allow for any piece of LEGO to be used in the robot design.”

Craig Christenson added: “The approach to robot mechanical design and programming is only limited by the kids’ imagination, as long as they stay within the bounds of the robot game rules. As a result, out of the 28 teams competing at the Cal Lutheran qualifying tournament, no two robots looked alike.”

The Los Angeles Region FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament will be held Sunday at Chaminade College Preparatory Middle School in Chatsworth. The event is open to the public.

— Craig Christenson is a founder of the Santa Barbara Homeschool Robotics Academy and coach for the LEGOnardo Da Vincis.