Children exhibit LEGO creations

Playing with LEGOS has just taken on a whole new meaning.

When some talented youngsters get together, they don’t just build planes, trains and automobiles. They build robots; fully functioning, specially programmed robots.

And they’re eager to show everyone what they can do.

Approximately 300 children from across Kentucky will be competing at Northern Kentucky University Jan. 7 in the Kentucky State FIRST LEGO League Tournament.

The FIRST LEGO League (FLL), considered the little league of the FIRST Robotics Competition, is the result of a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO Company. FLL extends the FIRST concept of inspiring children ages 9 through 14 in science and technology by using real-world contexts and hands-on experimentation.

Participants can build a robot to compete in a friendly robotics event designed for their age group. Using LEGO bricks and other elements such as sensors, motors and gears when they construct and program their unique robot inventions, teams gain hands-on experience in engineering and computer programming principles.

The teams, comprised of four to 10 kids, have been working for months on their creations. But it’s not all fun and games. The teams not only have to design and program a robot that will maneuver through an obstacle course, but also complete an intensive research project.

“The competition consists of four parts,” said Linda Neenan, Executive Director of iSPACE, a company that sponsors the competition. “Twenty-five percent of the total score will go to each of the following areas: research project, robot design, teamwork and table competition.”

The teams had to research and design a robot that would make life easier for someone with a disability, correlating to the theme “No Limits,” a theme about accessibility.

“Students were asked to spend a day in the life of someone who has a disability,” Neenan said. “Taking into account the adaptations they had to make, they were instructed to create a technologically assistive device.

“The neatest thing is that they’re creating real products that could possibly be developed and in use 10 years from now.”

The obstacle course-a 4-foot by 8-foot table with LEGO obstacles that represent difficulties a person with a disability would face-is a timed competition.

Each team has two and a half minutes to complete as many of the tasks as possible. Tasks may be picking up glasses or pushing chairs around a table. The best run out of three is counted.

The tournament is the second statewide competition in Kentucky FFL history. Event coordinators are expecting 700 spectators to attend.

“It’s a big deal,” Neenan said. “The kids go all out. They make up cheers, they wear uniforms and they have hundreds of fans in the stands. This competition gives kids who are more academically-oriented a chance to be champions, a chance to be a jock.”

The teams, from public, private and parochial schools, will compete for awards such as the coveted Director’s Award and also Best Programming, Best Design, Best Teamwork, Most Spirit and a Rookie Team prize.