An Introduction to FIRST LEGO League!

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Over the past few weeks, the girls have been exploring the requirements of the FIRST LEGO League competition, starting off with a practice run through the 2015 TrashTrek season.

The competition, which starts on September 1st, 2016, involves three key elements:

  1. Project: The students will need to research and design an innovative solution to a real world problem.
  2. Robot Game: The team needs to program and engineer solutions to a number of ‘missions’, earning points.
  3. Core Values: Through their presentations to judges, and demonstration of team identity during the robot game students are expected to uphold the FLL Core Values.

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The FLL Core Values are as follows: 

  • We are a team.
  • We do the work. Our coaches and mentors help us learn, but we find the answers ourselves.
  • We share our experiences and discoveries with others.
  • We are helpful, kind, and show respect when we work, play, and share. We call this Gracious Professionalism®.
  • We are all winners.
  • We have fun!

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Learning the Ropes of the Robot Game

The Robot Game is a major, and very complicated, component of the FLL competition. The game rules run to several thousand words and over 12 pages, and they are incredibly exact. During the course of the robot game, students need to try and compete a number of game missions, earning points. Placing in the top 40% of the robot game scores is a key requirement for qualification for the national FLL competition.

In FLL 2015 “TrashTrek”, the missions included transporting scientists (mini-figurines), removing plastic bags from the ocean environment, sorting trash, and extracting compost from a compost machine. Once the robot leaves the home base in the corner, it is on its own – which means the girls need to program and engineer their mission solutions. We will find out the 2016 Animal Allies missions in just over a week’s time!

The first step in the robot game preparation is the planning and strategy meeting. This involves careful reading and extensive discussions of the mission requirements and rules, identifying their point values and grading their level of difficulty (Easy, Medium, Too Hard). Then the girls need to identify which missions can be grouped together into a robot run, and vote on which missions they will attempt to solve for the season. That’s when the programming and building begin!

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Exploring Robot Design and Engineering

In the limited time we’ve had before the 2016 season starts in earnest, we have only briefly explored robot design & attachment engineering. We have been really grateful to many parents who have joined us during these sessions to learn more about the competition, and we look forward to their future visits and expert assistance during the Animal Allies season.

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Experimenting with a hook attachment

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A prototype sweeper attachment – possibly a little wide?

While this is our first year in this competition, I am now more confident that our girls have prepared well for this year’s challenge, and I am sure they will do themselves proud when they arrive at the WA FLL tournament in late November. With less than a week to go before Animal Allies begins, things are about to get interesting (and busy)!

Good luck girls!

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And just for fun …

It was seriously depressing how many of our robotics girls didn’t know what this little robot was :(. And to top it off, our Principal didn’t know either! The poor coach, and his fellow Whovian students, were very disappointed!

 

“Robots and Walls don’t Mix!”

Miele robot vacuum, IFA 2015Creative Commons License Kārlis Dambrāns via Compfight

Have you ever wondered how a robot vacuum cleaner detects and avoids obstacles? This was a question our girls sought to answer when they began exploring the role of sensors in aiding robot navigation.

The first sensor we worked with was the touch sensor, which is ‘activated’ by a ‘push’, being ‘released’, or with a ‘bump’. As the girls discovered, this sensor can be extremely useful for detecting obstacles in front of the robot.

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The first challenge required the girls to work out the difference between the ‘push’ and ‘bump’ sensor states. They had to program their robot to move forward until a team member ‘bumped’ the sensor with their hand. The resulting code looked something like this:

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Move Forward –> Wait Until Touch Sensor is ‘bumped” –> Play “Sorry” —> Move Back 1 rotation.

Robots and Walls don’t Mix!

The next challenge proved to be rather entertaining. The girls were asked to program their robot to move until it detected a wall, reverse 20cm or so, and then turn 90 degrees. Then after adding a loop, they had to create a physical obstacle course for the robot to navigate through. Judging by the number of robots trying to drive through (and climb) walls, this wasn’t an easy challenge. 🙂

The key to success relies on understanding the difference between the ‘bump’ and the ‘push’ states when using the touch sensor. A bump could be likened to a quick tap; however, the ‘push’ is activated when the sensor detects a firm pushing force (e.g. what happens when you hit a wall).

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And, in one of the funniest pre-season moments to date … 

  • Student: “Mr Graffin, our touch sensor doesn’t work! Our robot is stupid!”
  • Teammate: “Have you tried plugging it in …?”

They had to pick me up off the floor after that one, 🙂

Robots and LEGO – Just two of our favourite things!

It has been a very busy few weeks, with some big changes happening down in the robotics lab.

FLL 2016 Team Names – The votes are in!

The Year 5 team will be known as the “Robotic Rebels”, and the Year 6 team voted for “The Motherboards”. Well done girls!

Our Competition Practice Table has Arrived

With the help of Mr B, our school groundsman, our FIRST LEGO League competition practice table has now been built and installed. At about 2.5m x 1.4m, it wasn’t a small (or light) addition – and it is only half the size of the full competition table! The girls will be using it regularly from the start of next term, as they participate in a practice FLL season using the 2015 Trash Trek missions and models.

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Speaking of models, we had no idea how hard it would be to construct our FLL mission models, or how long it would take. The girls have spent weeks trying to decipher the build instructions, constructing a LEGO trash sorter, power station, cars, and a compost machine. One of the greatest lessons we have learnt so far is that we need to follow the instructions to the letter – if you don’t, the models simply don’t work!

Given we have a whole new set of LEGO models to build for the 2016 Animal Allies season, it looks like we’ll be scheduling some lunchtime and after-school building sessions come early September …

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We welcomed (and named) some new robots! 

A few weeks ago, we took delivery of some new EV3 Mindstorms robots, enabling us to return our two loaned LEGO NXT robots to Curtin University. Our thanks go to Tim Keely, from the Curtin University Engineering Outreach team, whose loan & support made our program possible.

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Our new robots, with names including “Bubbles” and “Alice”!

Wrapping up our focus on programming for now. 

As Term 2 drew to a close, we finished up our programming work with a series of challenges focused on how to use touch, ultrasonic, and colour sensors to aid robot navigation. I’ll share more about these in future posts.

As we move into our last week, the girls are beginning to learn about basic robot structural design and gearing. The next step will be introducing and exploring the engineering design process, as the teams start to familiarise themselves with the FLL competition format & robot building challenges next term.

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Welcome to our new robotics blog!

In late 2015, Iona PS won a FIRST LEGO League Robotics grant from FIRST Australia, in partnership with Google. This grant has helped us to set up a small LEGO Robotics program for 2016, which will enable 18 upper primary girls to compete in the 2016 “Animal Allies” FLL competition.

The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is part of an international student robotics competition which focuses on high level problem solving, critical thinking, coding, and finding solutions to real world problems, such as natural disasters, trash, and aged care.

Mr Graffin, and the robotics girls, are looking forward to sharing their FLL adventure over the coming year!