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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 11:51 pm | Fair 47º


Foothill School Team Headed to FIRST National Championship Robotics Tournament at Legoland

3 sixth-graders and a fifth-grader build a 'Self-Cleaning, Bacteria-Identifying, Infrared Robot Harvester' to meet Food Factor challenge

Four Foothill School students recently learned they were invited to compete in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) National Open Championship Robotics Tournament at Legoland in Carlsbad from May 18-20.

Their team, the Foothill LEGO Lovers, consists of three sixth-graders and one fifth-grader. They are the only Santa Barbara County team in this year’s national championship and will be competing against more than 60 teams from all over the country, as well as Canada and Mexico.

Every September, FLL releases a Challenge based on a real-world scientific topic. Each Challenge has three parts: the Robot Game, the Project and the FLL Core Values. The children participate in the Challenge by programming an autonomous robot to score points on a playing field (Robot Game) within a set time (2½ minutes) and developing an innovative solution to a problem they have identified (Project), all guided by the FLL Core Values. Teams may then choose to attend a qualifying tournament to see if they can compete at the regional level.

The Foothill team learned to work together constructively to solve technical problems and learned how to perform under pressure, switching out parts and selecting new programs with the clock ticking and their teammates counting on them. They also learned how to quickly fix parts a minute before game time and develop engineering solutions in real time.

For this season, the budding engineers and innovators were asked to solve issues related to the theme “Food Factor: Keeping Food Safe.” At the tournaments, they presented months of serious research on food safety and their innovative solution in a five-minute skit they wrote themselves. The team members came up with a “Self-Cleaning, Bacteria-Identifying, Infrared Robot Harvester.” They also did cost/benefit analysis and performed market research to see what farmers could charge for this extra protection, and developed a BBFF (Bad Bacteria Free Food) logo that the farmers can use to market their produce.

In addition, the team has demonstrated its robot to the entire Foothill School, at 711 Ribera Drive in the Goleta Union School District, and to several other local schools. They also helped start a new LEGO Robotics class at Foothill last month (with the generosity of local companies such as FLIR, Raytheon, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and Village Properties, as well as individual families). Some of the team members are mentors in this class to help their fellow students learn the basics of robotics, demonstrating one of the FLL Core Values of “Sharing Their Experiences.” They also recently started an online blog and posted some of their performances on YouTube.

What makes this particularly unusual is that this is the team’s first year competing in the FLL competition.

“Our original goal at the beginning of this rookie season was just to learn what the FLL competition was all about,” said coach Rip Chou. “No one in our team had even touched a LEGO Mindstorm robot a year ago. But then the kids worked really hard the whole season, worked really well as a team, and never gave up when they ran into obstacles and setbacks. They progressed extremely quickly.

“To have qualified and competed in the L.A. Regional Championship last December was already beyond our original expectations. And to have done well enough at the regional championship to have been invited to the national tournament in May is certainly a dream come true for our team!

“We have regrouped and are working on new robot designs that will, hopefully, make our robot perform even better in this tournament. No matter how well they do in the national tournament in May, they should be proud of themselves for having gone so far in their first season, and I know they will have fun just being at Legoland for the tournament.”

— Ri-Pen “Rip” Chou is coach of the Foothill School LEGO Lovers.

The Foothill LEGO Lovers demonstrate their robotics skills during an an assembly at Foothill School. In their spare time, they've started a new LEGO Robotics class on campus and recently began writing a blog.
The Foothill LEGO Lovers demonstrate their robotics skills during an an assembly at Foothill School. In their spare time, they’ve started a new LEGO Robotics class on campus and recently began writing a blog. (Foothill School photo)

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