2013 FIRST LEGO League Robotics Competition

Dean Kamen, entrepreneur and inventor, had a vision that one day scientists, engineers and mathematicians would be celebrated much like sports figures are in our pop culture. In 1989, he founded FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) with this idea in mind.  FIRST® is a robotics science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) competition sponsored by LEGO® that places students in a “real-world” situation solving a problem using innovation and teamwork. Teams gain hands-on experience programming and engineering a robot, as well as teamwork experience brainstorming ideas and learning to manage time. FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL), in particular, involves teams with ages ranging from 9 to 14 years old.

Each year, teams are giving a unique and different challenge. This year’s challenge was “Nature’s Fury.” Teams were faced with the task of identifying a specific natural disaster such as an avalanche or landslide, tornado or cyclone, earthquake, tsunami, flood, volcanic eruption, hurricane, wildfire, or storm and then from that point, designing an innovative solution for the community. Their innovation is then tested in several areas:  robotics challenge, robot design, project and core values. The robotics challenge includes programming a robot to maneuver a playing field with obstacles related to the theme using a LEGO® brick with sensors, motors, and gears. Robot design allows the teams to showcase their robot and answer engineering-related questions regarding their build. The project portion involves the research work needed to solve the presented problem and the innovative solution in which they arrived. Finally, core values encompasses how the team worked together to solve the problem.

This year 58 FLL teams from all over various counties of West Virginia including school groups, 4-H clubs and Boy & Girl Scout teams attended the State Tournament at Fairmont State University on December 7, 2013, making it the largest STEM competition to date in our beautiful mountain state. It didn’t take long for Dean Kamen’s vision to materialize as the gymnasium transformed into a room full of competitors, spectators, and excited energy. Teams could be found in the pit and judging areas perfecting their robot programs, rehearsing their presentations, chanting team cheers, wearing costumes (one of the biggest traditional in FLL history), meeting new teams and making new friends.   One of the team members of the Brix Mix from Putnam County, who competed for the first time, stated, “This is a lot bigger than we thought it would be. This has been a GREAT learning experience!”

Awards for the 2013 West Virginia State Tournament

Champions Award, 1st Place, Nerdbots (Fairmont)
Champions Award, 2nd Place, SCIENEERS (Fairmont)
Champions Award, 3rd Place, Technomancers (Morgantown)
Robot Performance, 1st Place, Technomancers (Morgantown)
Robot Performance, 2nd Place, Robocats (Morgantown)
Robot Performance, 3rd Place, Nerdbots (Fairmont)
Project: Research, 1st Place, Silicon Stream (Mineral Wells)
Project: Innovative Solution, 1st Place, Infini-Miners (Morgantown)
Project: Presentation, 1st Place, Tech Nados (Arthurdale)
Robot Design: Mechanical Design, 1st Place, West Side CyberCubs (Fairmont)
Robot Design: Programming, 1st Place, Suncrest Stemtists (Morgantown)
Robot Design: Strategy and Innovation, 1st Place, Fairmont Blockheads (Fairmont)
Core Values: Gracious Professionalism, 1st Place, F.I.R.E. (Martinsburg)
Core Values: Teamwork, 1st Place, Warriors (Nitro)
Core Values: Inspiration, 1st Place, Fifth Element (Caldwell)
Judges Award: Against All Odds, Resolutions (Charleston)
Judges Award: Against All Odds, RebotiCX (Huntington)
Judges Award: Community Engagement, Coalbots (Pecksmill)
Outstanding Volunteer, Abraham Falsi, (Montgomery)
Adult Coach Award, Ann Burns, (Fairmont)
Youth Service Award, William (Morgantown)

The 2014 teaser “World Class” has already been released and can be viewed at the FIRST LEGO League website.  Since the WV State Tournament has become so large Todd Ensign, tournament director, made the announcement during the tournament that next year there will be five regional qualifying tournaments.  This step is a must as WV becomes a bigger and bigger player in STEM engagement initiatives and needs are met over all 55 counties.

To help make the State Tournament a success we enlisted 100 volunteers to assist in judging, registration, tour guides, social media gurus, as well as audio visual and sound technicians.   The MARS (Morgantown Area RoboticS) FRC high school robotics team volunteered to referee the robotics tables and challenges.

Sponsorship for the tournament included a $2,250.00 total donation from Thrasher Engineering, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission in Science & Research, and Par Mar Stores.  These funds allow the winning Championship team additional monies to attend another FLL event such as the national tournament.  Additional sponsorship to help run the state tournament came from NASA’s Independent Verification &Validation Program, WV Space Grant Consortium, and Fairmont State University.

For more information visit the FIRST® LEGO® League homepage.

Jaime Ford
NASA’s IV&V Program ERC’s Graduate Assistant for Student Programs