Robots At The First LEGO League

This past weekend I had the opportunity to help man the M4Reactor table at the First LEGO League competition at Salisbury Middle School.  In this event, several teams of students compete in robot games and challenges using LEGO robots they have built themselves.  These young minds are just beginning to reach into the field of robotics and see the potential the future holds.

M4Reactor was set up at the event to showcase the youth programs offered at the makerspace.  There are a number of one off events upcoming and a great variety of summer programs that were recently announced.  Seriously, if you have kids that are into STEM activities (or even if they’re not because they’ve never tried one), get over to http://www.m4reactor.org and check out what’s offered.  You be glad you did.

This was a perfect opportunity to show off the simple robots I had been building around the makerspace to generate buzz for M4.  What better place to show off robots than at a robotics competition, right?  In attendance we had the robotic plotter or “Drawing Robot”, the 2-wheeled balancing robot, the sphere-o-bot and the “spider robot” which only has 4 legs, but most closely resembles a spider.

The balance robot was definitely a hit.  We ran him up and down the hallways and made him wave to the kids.  It was impossible not to spot him buzzing around.  You could see the gears turning in the competitors heads.  It was more than “hey, that’s cool” it was “I want to build that now”.  Exactly the response I was hoping for.  We ran that little guy around until his batteries died.

The drawing robot received a ton of attention, too.  Each time I would start a new drawing, a crowd would gather and everyone would try to guess what it was drawing.  Eventually, I had a stack of them, so I started giving them away.  Then, the custom requests started coming in.  Luckily, things did not get out of hand.  One of the students even gave me a dollar for my “hard work” which I put into the M4Reactor donation bin.  Several of the students were looking over the components and trying to reverse engineer this device as well.

The Sphere-o-Bot and the spider robot didn’t get a lot of play time.  Unfortunately the Sphere-o-Bot fell victim to a bit of a bumpy ride over and the servo that lifts the pen broke off the device.  No super glue in sight to make a field repair, so it became an inactive show piece.  We were still able to explain its purpose and the kids understood what it did.  The spider robot was working okay, but the battery in the radio used to control it had gone dead.  When I found the controller, the switch was on, probably due to a bump during transport.  Luckily, the controller will power down before damaging the Li-Po battery installed, but it didn’t have enough juice to control the robot.

The day was great overall.  We generated a lot of interest in the makerspace and definitely got a lot of kids thinking about their next project.  I know I still have some robots in the works that will be fun to demo at 3rd Friday this year.  Keep a look out for those!

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