By Diane Y. Welch
Seven local students recently competed in the FIRST Lego League Robotics competition held at the Preuss School, UCSD. Team members Joshua Steiner-Friedson, William Guan, Ann Ryan and Andy No, each from Carmel Del Mar Elementary School; Jeffrey Gold from Ashley Falls Elementary School; and Paul Lindberg and John Paul Welch, both from Earl Warren Middle School, successfully advanced to the next round.
Pink Shopping Princesses — the team's humorous moniker categorized by hot pink T- shirts —was one of six teams out of 30 that qualified to compete at the regional level on Dec. 4 at Legoland. “This was so much more than we expected,” said Jill Steiner, lead coach of the team. “The kids are rookies, they outdid themselves.”
This initial competition, based on biomedics, was a qualifying round in which the robot constructed of Lego bricks performed medical-related tasks at 15 different stations on a 4-foot x 8-foot mat. Each station represented a part of the body and the robot had to perform tasks related to the body parts. “For example, one task was to place a stent into an artery and the robot had to be programmed to do this,” said Steiner. “It was very sophisticated.”
The team also had to complete a theoretical project based on a biomedical engineering theme.
They designed a biosensor that could detect the early symptoms of an asthma attack and an auto-treatment device that would be prompted by the biosensor to release albuterol in order to head off an asthma attack before it gets out of control.
Altogether there were six modes of judging in the contest: three robotic games, the research project, strength of teamwork, and technical expertise. The children did all the work on the robotic challenges themselves, which is one of the core principles of FIRST, said Steiner. “And they made the cut for regionals due to an overall strong performances in all six of the competitions,” she added.
FIRST, which means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, was founded in 1989 by Dean Kaman. The program's aim is to introduce students of all ages to science and technology. Today, the combined levels reach 250,000 students each year.
Team members, aged 10-12, participated at the grade 4-8 level, and met weekly after school in each others' homes. Steiner organized the team because her son, Joshua, received an NXT Mindstorm Robot as a gift and immediately became intrigued by it.
“I thought it would be interesting and fun for him and some of his friends who are also interested in science and technology to participate in this program,” said Steiner, who not only found interested students but also recruited local parents with biomedical, engineering and medical backgrounds as volunteers. Mike Lindberg, an electrical engineer, volunteered as a coach, as did software engineer Dan Gold, and Dr. Megan Ryan mentored for the biomedical research project.
Four years ago Lindberg served as a judge at the Legoland Regionals and a year later he volunteered for another team as mentor. His son Paul, 12, is on the current team.