Robot woes fail to lower students’ high-tech spirit

In a blink of an eye, the pair of 11-year-old engineers-in-the-making watched two months of hard work collapse before their eyes.

Drew Rhora, his eyes the size of dinner plates, squeezed the top of his head with both hands in frustration. His robot was paralyzed and the clock was ticking.

Rhora’s teammate Michael Ferrara frantically ripped the robot apart, hoping to pull off a miracle and get the Lego bot working before time to complete an obstacle course ran out.

“It worked fine before, I swear!” Ferrara said after the Saturday afternoon event at Niagara College. “I really don’t understand why it didn’t work. I guess we’ll just have to do better next time.”

Rhora and Ferrara were part The Atom’s Family team at the second annual Lego League challenge along with Lucas Cimato, Ben Flegg, Marc Mailhot, Lucas Lemoine, Derek Naar and Matthew Sobkowski.

They compete against 19 teams in a regional playoff to see who gets to go to the provincial competition in 2007.

Organizer Steve Rourke said the Lego competition is a way for young students to learn the kind of science and technology skills they will need for the Robotics competitions held at the high school level.

He said student teams are given a Lego robotics kit and must design and build a robot that will be able to perform specific tasks on an obstacle course.

Each competition also has a theme, Rourke said. This year it was nano-technology.

Along with building their robot, each team had to write a report on an aspect of nano-tech.

Teams like The Atom’s Family had several months to prepare. Although most teams were composed of students from the same school, The Atom’s Family team was composed of students from Fonthill and St. Catharines.

“We were all friends and wanted to try to do this together,” said Ferrara.

The team of 11-year-olds was broken up into a group of robot designers, and a group of computer programmers who program the bot’s brain.

Everything went fine in tests before the competition at Niagara College’s Niagara-on-the-Lake campus.

But something went wrong when they released their robot into the timed obstacle course. No amount of on-the-spot repair work could make the machine move, and they ran out of time.

Still, team members said they learned a great deal and will be back next year.

Although there were 18 teams from the Niagara Regional, the top prizes went to two teams from Calvin Park Public School in Kingston.

They won the overall championship, robot design and performance categories.

Sheridan Park School in St. Catharines captured fourth prize for its report on nano-technology.

Other results from the competition can be found online at www.fllontario.org

Lego League is an international program for children and was created through a partnership between the Denmark-based Lego toy company and (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a multinational non-profit organization that aspires to make science, math, engineering and technology mainstream.

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