Robo Saints clinch Champion Award

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Fri., Nov. 22, 2013
The Robo Saints (front row, l to r) Charlotte Morrissette, Max Hayes, Noah Marcoux, John Amaral, Jonathan Lepire, (middle row, l to r) Annabelle Sparling, Conan McGannon, Josie Keith, Alex Morrissette, John Madden, (back row, l to r) Alyssa Harvey, Ryan Barnwell and Julia Trafaconda. Photos by D. Coffey.
The Robo Saints (front row, l to r) Charlotte Morrissette, Max Hayes, Noah Marcoux, John Amaral, Jonathan Lepire, (middle row, l to r) Annabelle Sparling, Conan McGannon, Josie Keith, Alex Morrissette, John Madden, (back row, l to r) Alyssa Harvey, Ryan Barnwell and Julia Trafaconda. Photos by D. Coffey.

Students from St. James Elementary School in Danielson walked away with two trophies at the FIRST LEGO League qualifying competition in Old Lyme on Nov. 16. They racked up 328 out of 420 possible points, the most points scored out of the 26 teams competing in the robotic challenge. And they won the Champion Award, which earned them a golden ticket to the state championship on Dec. 7 at Central Connecticut State University.

The robotic challenge is an annual one sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit dedicated to fostering an appreciation for and participation in science and technology. FIRST robotic competitions have grown from a 28-team event in New Hampshire to a worldwide challenge just 20 years later. According to the FIRST website, more than 200,000 children from more than 70 countries will participate in the 2014 challenge, “Nature’s Fury.”

The St. James students just passed the first hurdle in the long road of the competition. They had to come up with a natural disaster scenario, figure out how to save people, and program a robot to move through an arena filled with obstacles.

The Robo Saints devised a natural disaster plan involving a volcano at Yellowstone National Park. They created a hovercraft using starlite, a heat-resistant polymer that would (theoretically) withstand volcano temperatures. Emergency preparedness plans required them to move water containers and buildings with their robots. They had two and a half minutes and six attempts to do their best in a space 4 feet long by 8 feet wide.

Their robot (about 10 inches by 10 inches, with moveable parts) was constructed entirely out of LEGO parts, a requirement of the challenge. A robot team programmed and operated the robot. They created a program that moved the robot forward, backward, changed speed, and stopped and turned in another direction when it hit obstacles.

A project team wrote and revised a skit that all team members participated in. They built a working hovercraft. And they worked well together, which is a cornerstone of FIRST challenges.

“The judges, referees and coaches I talked with were impressed with how well our team got along and how naturally they interacted with each other,” said coach Dan McCrory.

The team had six runs at the robot table, gave a project presentation, was judged on technical and engineering skills, and performed a teamwork skills challenge.  In between all of that, they were practicing and strategizing for the next event, McCrory said.  

Not all of the robot runs went well. “They either bounce back or they let it get to them,” McCrory said of the team. “That's one of the life lessons that I think is the most valuable. This team was very impressive in the way they bounced back and had their best run at the very end of the day.”

The judges thought so too. They awarded the Robo Saints the top award, which opened the door to their next challenge, the state championship on Dec. 7. The competition promises to be tough. More than 50 teams are scheduled to compete. The team that wins the Champion Award at the state tournament will represent Connecticut at the World Festival in St. Louis, Mo., in May.


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