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Domo arigato, competition roboto

Posted: November 18, 2008 7:53 p.m.
Updated: November 19, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Left to right: Steven Meissner and Jason Block set up their robot during the 6th annual FIRST Lego League robotics competition, held Saturday at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

 
Local students from Placerita Junior High, Castaic Middle School and SCVi Charter School put their technical skills and teamwork abilities to the test at the Sixth annual FIRST Lego League Robotics Competition Friday.

Working with the theme Climate Conditions, 23 robotics teams from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties competed in the tournament held at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Teams of five to 10 students ages 9 to 14 presented research projects focused on improving the climate.

Each team programmed robots to execute climate-improving missions.

"FIRST Lego League is a nonprofit organization based in New Hampshire that creates a different robotic challenge every year," league partner Lynn Crockett said.

"This was a qualifying tournament and all the teams were competing to advance to the state tournament," Crockett said. "The top 50 to 70 percent of the teams will advance based on their scores."

This year's tournament taught students about the factors affecting climates.

"They had to research the climate in their area, compare it to a similar region in the world, talk about ways to predict the climate and come up with solutions to control it," tournament director Paul Kass said.

One of Placerita Junior High's teams, the Placerita Polar Bears, compared Santa Clarita's climate with Tucson, Ariz.

"I learned a lot about Tucson's climate," eighth-grader Jason Block said. "We compared Santa Clarita's climate to Tucson's in our research project. We were supposed to find a similar city with the same temperature and weather patterns."

The judges evaluated the team members on their research projects, robot designs and teamwork efficiency. After initial judging, each team's robot had three chances to complete 19 different climate-improving missions.

"Their goal is to do as many missions as they can within two and a half minutes," said Adam Eisen, junior tournament director. "They have to construct levees, test the levees, collect carbon dioxide, bury it, and take an ice-core sample. That's just a couple (missions)."

Placerita eighth-grader Devin Morgan learned how to fight against pollution and flooding.

"Another one was to test out levees, obviously based off Katrina," Morgan said. "We wanted to build levees that were stronger and prepare for things like (Hurricane Katrina). We also had one preparing houses for floods by raising a house above flooding level."

Placerita eighth-grader Curtis Noonan enjoyed the teamwork.

"I liked working on the missions with my friends," he said. "We had to figure out how to do it together and make a (robot) attachment to do the mission. If one way didn't work, we tried a different way."

The robots required intricate programming to complete the missions successfully.

"I did a lot of the research graphs and I built a lot of the attachments," said Placerita eigth-grader Henry Bulmer. "I learned that if you don't get the degrees right, (the robot) can go a completely different place."

Sixth-grader Brian Delposo from Castaic Middle School, part of "The Bionic Cougars," learned about water conservation.

"I've learned about drought and how much water we use every day and how we can save water," he said.
Placerita Junior High hosted the robotics competition as a student enrichment activity.

"It's promoting science, math and technology," said Kass. "They built the robots, so they're learning about how mechanical and technical stuff works."

Eisen enjoyed helping to prepare the kids for the competition.

"It was lots of fun; getting to work with them and helping them," he said. "I used to do it when I was in junior high and I just love it."

Student volunteers at the event included 20 engineering students from College of the Canyons who served as judges and 40 Golden Valley High School junior ROTC cadets who provided event security.

Judges awarded prizes to teams in four categories: research, performance, design and teamwork. Team HackN'Botz took home the championship trophy.

"It was pretty impressive how creative some of the teams were to complete those missions," said Juan Salgado, volunteer judge and a COC engineering student.

"We're trying to promote engineering into the junior highs and high schools," said David Martinez, department chair of engineering at COC. "It's really the key to success for future careers. We're trying to make sure people are educated and have an interest, and this is one way to do that."

Placerita Junior High and the "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" Lego League hosted the competition.

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