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Saturday, December 2, 2023


LEGO bout serves as outlet for youngsters

"The best isn’t good enough," is the phrase that local area elementary and middle school students will be saying when their LEGO robots battle Saturday.

More than 100 teams from across Texas will face off in the 2007 Lone Star FIRST LEGO League Championship Tournament to test their ingenuity, teamwork skills and knack for LEGO brick programming at John H. Reagan High School.

"Power Puzzle" – the theme of this year’s challenge – requires the would-be scientists and engineers to solve critical environmental issues and find ways to conserve energy by programming and constructing their own LEGO robot from a LEGO Mindstorms kit to undergo a series of missions.

Hosted by the College of Technology’s Coordination of Robotics Education, the event is one of the largest national robotics competitions, that serves as an outlet for young students to build science and technology skills. CORE, an outreach program created to develop youth robotics was founded in 2006, was founded through a partnership between UH, the College of Technology and NASA Johnson Space Center.

"Every year there’s a different challenge and this year it’s all about conserving energy and finding solutions to environmental problems," Karen Cohen, CORE program manager and tournament director, said. "We put on events and educational workshops to help build robotics as a tool we use to excite young students about science and technology."

Previous challenges include "NANO Technology" and "Ocean Odyssey," the 2005 robotics challenge geared toward ocean preservation.

For this competition, however, the students will be judged by 60 engineers on their ability to complete assigned missions including Roof Solar Panel, Hydro-Dam, Wind Turbines, Planting Trees, Oil Drilling and Corn Harvest and Processing. Each of the detailed missions encompasses a range of energy-related and environmentally conscious tasks and offers the teams a chance to earn points for each stage their robot finishes.

In the Roof Solar Panel mission, the team gets 15 points for moving a roof solar panel onto the roof of the house and for the Coal Mining mission the robot must get a loaded rail car to roll down railroad tracks for 10 points.

"(The students) had to learn programming, robot design and most importantly team work," Cohen said. "The teams mostly meet after school – sometimes on the weekends – and they work really hard for about eight weeks to get ready for the tournament."

Every team has to purchase a LEGO Mindstorms kit, which costs about $250 and comes with the components for a LEGO robot. Each team’s LEGO robot is built around a hand-sized programmable brick, made up of LEGOs with a microprocessor inside. The robot is controlled through a graphics-based computer program. The students can add wheels and different parts, such as electric motors and touch and light sensors to make the robot move and perform different tasks to complete each team’s respective challenge. The teams must also prepare a research project corresponding to the robot they created, Cohen said.

The team that wins the tournament advances to the world tournament that will be hosted in Atlanta, Ga.

UH students, faculty and staff will take part in Saturday’s event by working as judges and volunteering. Sponsors of the LEGO robotics tournament include Jacob Engineering, Insight Technical Solutions, Education Foundation of Harris County and NASA.

"I think this is as close a student is going to get to a real world learning experience," Cohen said. "It’s a fabulous opportunity to learn team work."

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