Kids compete at robotics meet

By Jack Minch
Sentinel & Enterprise
December 18, 2011


LEOMINSTER — Teams from as far as North Andover competed in a second-chance First Lego League robotics tournament at the Boys & Girls Club of Central Massachusetts Saturday and even though teams from Sharon and Walpole took the top prizes, local teams had strong showings.

“This is just a local tournament because the state championship was down in Worcester (yesterday) and there are teams that did not get in or qualify,” said Marie Keane of Leominster Youth Robotics.

Keane worked with Tina Joyce of Leominster Youth Robotics and Donata Martin, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club to co-sponsor the event.

It was the first competition hosted by the club, Martin said.

“We’re supposed to impact the education of children so we’re exposing them to careers — and it’s fun,” she said.

A portion of the tournament’s proceeds will be donated to the Mayor’s Energy Fund in Leominster, Keane said.

As many as 50 children up to 12 years old competing on eight teams took part.

“It’s a small group but it’s our first time here,” Keane said.

Several members of the Pink Devils team from Leominster, sprayed their hair pink.

Russell Martin, who coaches an older team, worked the sound system and pumped music through the club’s Lindell Avenue gym to keep the atmosphere hopping.

Leominster teams that did well included the Lego Llamas which were rated the most consistent; Pink Devils won the research project award; RoBo ReBeLs had the highest score of preliminary rounds and the highest average of the preliminary rounds; and Blue Thunder won the teamwork award.

Each team had multiple tasks to perform using a small pre-programmed robot made of Legos.

The robots had to push and pull, pickup and deliver various Legos on the field.

Objects on the field represented food and machinery or equipment used in growing, catching, delivering or preserving food.

Jerry Westwood, an engineer for Bionostics at Devens, mentors a Boys & Girls Club’s robotics team that competes in the First Robotics Competition but was at Saturday’s tournament judging.

The teams had 2 1/2 minutes to complete as many as 16 missions on the field, Westwood said.

“There are a lot of things to do,” he said.

He was impressed with one that used a forklift on its robot to pickup a yellow Lego pickup truck.

As part of the mission, each team had to complete a research project and make an oral presentation.

Lauren Underdown, 11, a member of the RoBo ReBeLs and a fifth-grader at Southeast Elementary School, said she enjoyed that part of the competition.

“When you do the research you learn a lot,” Lauren said.

Her team researched apples.

Team members had to choose possible topics from five foods, said teammate Kyle Doyle, 10, a fifth-grader at Southeast.

Two of the six team members included apples on their list so everybody agreed to study apples.

Kyle said he learned there are many ways to contaminate an apple.

Pink Devils teammates such as Nicholas Penniman, 11, Oren Cohen, 9, Nathan Smith, 10, Corey French, 10, and Garrett Mallinson, 10, cheered on their robot in an early round judged by Westwood.

Nicholas said his team suffered a couple of breakdowns that needed to be repaired between rounds.

“It gets frustrating at times when it doesn’t work but you end up feeling good you did that,” Nicholas said.

Debbie Stolfi, of Leominster, was accompanying her son Dominic, 11, who is a sixth-grader at Skyview Middle School.

“I love it because it gives the kids an opportunity to learn teamwork, it’s a structured environment,” Stolfi said.

They learn critical thinking skills in order to maneuver the robots around the field, as well as math and physics, she said.

Leominster Youth Robotics had two teams at the state tournament at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Results for Robonautica and O.W.A.G.A. (Organization Without A Good Acronym) were not immediately available.