It was a competition filled with excitement and nerves on Saturday, as teams from across the state battled for the top slot in the FIRST LEGO League Rhode Island Robotics Tournament. The competition, now in its 12th year, was held at the Roger Williams University Recreational Center, and featured 40 teams of students ages 9 to 14.
Warwick’s own St. Peter School was represented by “The Rockin’ Robots,” comprised of 10 students in grades 5 through 8. Susan Unger, their coach and teacher, said the students have been preparing for the competition since September, meeting up at least once a week.
Their hard work culminated in the state championships Saturday, when their autonomous robot had to navigate an obstacle course and the team had to present a completed research project.
The team from St. Peter has been competing in the LEGO League Tournament for five years, each year under the guidance of Unger, who teaches science and health at the school. In addition to Unger, the students have the guidance of adult and alumni mentors.
Though St. Peter didn’t win Saturday’s championship, they did take home a trophy for Innovation and Strategy, one of the awards given out for robot design.
It was the same award the Rockin’ Robots won during qualifiers on Dec. 8 at North Kingstown High School. It was their high score at the preliminaries that landed them a spot in this weekend’s statewide competition.
Each year at the tournament, students are challenged to complete research and build a LEGO-based robot. On Saturday, the completed robots competed against one another in The Robot Game, an obstacle course of LEGO elements. Unger said her students’ robot – small enough to hold in the palm of your hand – was programmed to recognize colors and independently execute a variety of tasks. The St. Peter School team designed interchangeable appendages to aid the robot in completing the obstacle course, a design feature that Unger thinks won her team the Innovation and Strategy Award.
The annual competition also has a theme, and this year’s was “Senior Solutions.” The students were challenged to complete a research project and then present it at the tournament, showing how their “Innovative Solutions” would improve quality of life for senior citizens. The St. Peter Rockin’ Robots came up with something called “Docfolio,” an organizational system for seniors. They presented their invention through a mock-infomercial, presenting ways in which seniors could use Docfolio to organize things like doctors’ information and prescriptions. Their idea even included a microchip tracking device in case the senior lost their Docfolio.
Unger said working on the LEGO Robotics Tournament project taught the students the core values of teamwork, but also special skills in computer programming and robotics. Unger said that though the competition on Saturday was long and tiring (the students had to arrive at 7:30 a.m. and weren’t finished until 4:30 p.m.), the experience for them was unparalleled.
The Rockin’ Robots may not have taken home the grand prize, but they did get recognized for their creativity, and for Unger, that was enough.
“It made everything worthwhile,” she said.