Middle school students compete in Lego robot tournament

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 5, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- Some serious kid brain power was on display in the Century of Flight Hangar at the Museum of Aviation on Saturday.

Teams of middle school students from around Georgia competed in the FIRST Lego League Super Regional Qualifier, a Lego robotics competition. Out of 38 teams competing, the top nine will go on to compete in the state competition.

One of those teams is the Zues Droids, a group of five Bonaire Middle School students. They not only qualified for state, they won the competition. They formed the team last summer and met three times each week since then to prepare for the event.

“It’s really fun,” said Dakota Wilkes. “It gets my brain working.”

They qualified for Saturday’s event by competing in a regional competition in Dublin. If they do well enough in the state competition, they can qualify for the world competition to be held in St. Louis, Mo.

Each team builds a robot from an identical Lego Mindstorm kit. They are given 13 “missions” to have it perform, although doing all of those in the two minutes, 30 seconds allowed is almost impossible.

They have to decide which ones they want to perform to achieve the highest possible point total.

The robots are autonomous, meaning there is not a remote control. The competitors program a computer on the robot to perform each task, so once it is released all they can do is watch. Three rounds are held and the tasks are identical each time, but for various reasons, the robot doesn’t perform exactly the same each time. The outcome is based on each team’s highest score among the three rounds.

Saturday’s competition was the first among five super regional qualifiers being held around the state.

Teams that qualified in the regional round can pick which super regional qualifier they want to attend, which is why competitors may come from anywhere in the state.

The competition here is organized by STARBASE Robins, a Department of Defense education program done in partnership with Air Force Reserve Command and the Museum of Aviation. It aims to interest students in science, technology, engineering and math.

Wesley Fondal, executive director of STARBASE Robins, said when the first super regional competition was held at the museum eight years ago it drew only seven teams, but has steadily grown.He said it has become recognized not only as a good way to interest students in science and technology, but to develop problem-solving and interpersonal skills.

“They definitely learn how to think critically and to work in cooperation with others,” he said.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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