School robotics teams across the country are busy preparing for the UK regional heats of the FIRST® LEGO® League 2013/14 competition which will be taking place soon.
Last year a team from Bath called Untitled 1 won the UK heats and went on to become world robotics champions 2012/13.
Since the competition, the students have set up four teams at Ralph Allen School in Bath. Here Untitled 1 team member Freya Alder reports on how preparations are going for this year’s competition.
Rollercoaster ride with a whole new perspective
It’s five weeks to go until the FIRST® LEGO® League regional competition. I am standing in a room full of noise: several boys are keenly discussing their ideas for this year’s Nature’s Fury theme, a team is huddled around a computer intently programming while others are loudly shouting, “Excuse me. Excuse me!” across the room to no one in particular.
Taking part in the FLL is a rollercoaster, and that’s true whether you’re a competitor or a mentor. Last year I was a member of Untitled 1 – a team that somehow managed to become LEGO robotics World Champions. This year, our team has divided into competitors and mentors, and I am one of the latter. This new role has brought me a whole new perspective on the preparation that is needed for this competition.
Research is key
In September we sat down our four new teams of enthusiastic teenagers and talked about what they needed to do for this year’s theme – Nature’s Fury. Research is key, we told them. Teams must look at all the problems that are caused by their chosen natural disaster, find a community to base their product on, look at existing products, find experts to consult and, oh yes, come up with an innovative, desirable, viable solution too. All of this must be done under pressure in just a few hours. Initially it seems complete chaos. Voices are raised; people talk over each other. I’m getting worried. But bit by bit, by getting teams to throw every silly and unfeasible idea down onto a piece of paper, I see their brains working together and bonding as a team and soon they had thought of a solution to work on, to my relief.
On top of the initial brainstorming, the teams are trying to get their heads round programming, which is something the majority have never done before. They then start building their own original robots and realise the importance of planning. So, for about an hour, we stand at the edge of the robot mission mat, discussing and debating the easiest way to get the most points from as little runs across the mat as possible. They all question each other’s ideas, pushing them to better their solutions. It’s great to see how working on the robots really brings out people’s creativity. Soon there is a plan and now all they have to do is build a robot, program it to do exactly what they want and know exactly how it does this inside out and back to front. Simple then.
When people are first put into their teams, they’re very excited. A lot of time-wasting takes place. But it’s fascinating how within the next week they settle into their roles and begin to use time more efficiently. The independence they start to show as they assign tasks to each member of their team is really wonderful.
Now, I am seeing robots completing missions, presentations beginning to be scripted, core values developing and professionally written emails being sent to experts in the field. The enthusiasm and enjoyment in the room is constant – and exhausting.
The process of preparing for FLL is hard work. It takes many many hours, including many battles with robots and obstacles with projects. What I find amazing is that even after struggling with a mission over and over and over again, everyone is still interested and determined to make it work. What’s even more amazing is that, eventually, they will.
For more about the FLL in the UK, visit the website. For more about Untitled 1, visit the team’s website.