Naval Research Laboratory oceanographer Clark Rowley recently spent 80 hours over 10 weeks playing with LEGO blocks, teaching junior high students how to build robots.
Rowley has been coaching the Boyet Junior High School’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) team since 2009. FLL is a robotics-focused, extra-curricular program for middle school students. During the 10-week season, junior high teams build LEGO-based robots and develop research projects for a chance to compete in the FLL regional competitions.
“It’s fun to watch the kids go from just a box of LEGO parts and create a really capable robot with some very clever engineering,” Rowley said. “The kids do the research. They build the robots. They do the work. That is the heart of FIRST LEGO League.”
With the help of teachers and an assistant coach, Rowley prepared the 10 students for the 2011 FIRST LEGO League Louisiana Regional Competition in December.
Food contamination was the theme for this year’s competition, so Rowley’s team found an article about a rodent infestation in a Peruvian school cafeteria. The students conducted research and spoke with experts on rats, rat control, and autonomous robots, and proposed a system of communicating robots to perform rodent control in food storage warehouses.
As part of the project, they demonstrated a system of two LEGO robots communicating over Bluetooth.
Rowley and his team’s hard work and dedication paid off again at this year’s competition. Boyet won a Core Award for Mechanical Design and placed second out of 57 teams in the Robot Performance division.