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Robots to the rescue

Local kids enter tournament with Lego gadgets built to assist in disaster

Posted: November 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Leona Cox Elementary School's Brick Busters team works on final routine plans prior to their competition during the First Lego League Challenge held at West Ranch High School on Sunday. The mission was to build and program robots to respond to natural disasters. Photo by John Lazar for The Signal.

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Children using just Lego bricks, computer boards and a lot of brain power demonstrated how they would respond to natural disasters.

About 200 kids representing more than two dozen teams put eight weeks of research to the test Sunday when they competed at West Ranch High School in the Santa Clarita Valley First Lego League Qualifying Tournament, dubbed the Nature’s Fury Challenge.

Although there were no robots cutting other robots with spinning blades, there were plenty of Lego-made robots competing against each other by executing specific tasks associated with natural disaster rescue efforts.

Robots went head to head executing disaster relief tasks such as picking up stranded Lego pets and triggering a Lego plane to land in just two and a half minutes.

Stevenson Ranch teacher Bryan Eifert watched his team of “Robo-Huskies, Cyber-Huskies and Electro-Huskies” — all Pico Canyon Elementary School students proudly sporting orange T-shirts — get ready for their competition.

“Every team is competing against — not each other — but themselves,” he said. “That’s one of the cool things about this event.

“The only person you can be upset with is yourself because you are with the team that’s programmed your robot,” he said. “It’s a great learning experience for everybody.”

Nine-year-old Sophie Smith and her six fellow “Gizmo Galz” robotic team members — representing Burbank Girl Scout Troop 6576 and proudly sporting green T-shirts — had just one expectation as the starting bell was about to sound in their robot match.

“I want the Tsunami we have to go,” she said, hoping theGizmo Galz robot would trigger the release of a red Lego ‘Tsunami’ logs as the team had planned.

It did. The Gizmo Galz robot hit the tiny Lego platform holding the Lego logs, releasing the logs and scoring a point.

“We really wanted to encourage girls getting involved in science,” said Sophie’s father, Leon Smith.
Scores of robot makers and robot fans — and the parents of both — converged on the high school. Greeting them near the doors of the school’s gymnasium were two 4-foot robots — Red Bot and Blue Bot — programmed to gather basketballs and shoot them.

“This is all about inspiring and recognizing science and technology,” said event volunteer Janny Zhang.

Competing teams and their robots were judged on performance and design, but also on distinctly human considerations and “core values” such as teamwork and “gracious professionalism,” she said.
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