Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 26, 2012

Robot warriors build winning teams

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — So far this year, Lockport city schools are making an impression on the FIRST Lego Robotics world.

Emmet Belknap Intermediate and North Park Junior High fared pretty well at a competition last weekend. Both schools will be sending a team to the next round, a regional qualifying competition Dec. 9 in the Finger Lakes.

FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” an organization that introduces students to professional engineers and mentors to promote science and technology as career possibilities. The FIRST Lego program is a middle school age

competition that gets kids into robotics by building a Lego robot and solving a real-life problem. This year the theme was Senior Solutions, meaning kids had to create a device that would help senior citizens with an everyday problem.

North Park has a seventh-grade team, the Loc Blocks, as well as an eighth-grade team, System Upgrade. Both teams took home trophies, while System Upgrade will move on to the Finger Lakes regional next month at the University of Rochester.

System Upgrade won the Champion’s Award, which is essentially for first place overall, as well as the Overall Robot Performance Award. The team tackled the issue of maintaining balance by developing a “gyro pack.” The specialized backpack helps struggling seniors stay upright and avoid falls with the use of a gyroscope.

The idea worked, the team said, because a lot of other teams went with walkers or canes for products that solve problems. Teams had to present their problem-solving products to judges.

“The presentation went well, they really liked the idea,” said Samantha Madden.

The Loc Blocks developed a watch that does it all. The watch comes with an LED flashlight, USB port, magnifying glass and alarm. The watch could also work as a locater for whomever was wearing it. The watch can help seniors who are dealing with Alzheimer’s, said Keirstan Farina.

Nate Brick and Ethan Shaft were among the ones who programmed the robot, which took a few tries. To top it off, the Loc Blocks won the Teamwork Award.

Emmet Belknap’s Lego bot also did well, as it completed four or five missions, out of 13. Most robots complete only a handful, as matches are about two-and-a-half minutes.

At Emmet Belknap, the school’s sixth-grade team, Robot Rockers, will also be moving on to the Finger Lakes. The team won the Project Award for a commercial they shot, selling a product that assists seniors who find it hard getting into and out of their vehicles. Each of the 12 kids on the team interviewed a senior citizen in order to find out some of the everyday issues they face.

For some seniors, having to get into a vehicle can be challenging, so the Emmet Belknap kids developed a vehicle with a swivel seat, the Grand Pala. The name is derived from combining the words grandparents and Impala, which is a General Motors vehicle. GM has a plant on Upper Mountain Road in Lockport.

Swivel seats exist in some vehicles overseas, but are not found in U.S. vehicles. General Motors and Delphi engineers spoke to the Robot Rockers while researching the idea.

The team shot a commercial at Heinrich Chevrolet on South Transit Road, where two elder women purchase the Grand Pala. Jared Miner, who played a doctor in the commercial, said the team learned about stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal and gradual breakdown of cartilage.

The Robot Rockers visited the Dale Association to show off their idea. It was a big hit.

“They asked where they could get one,” Kate Matthies said.

Cherie Anterline, a special education aide at Emmet who coaches the Rockers with technology teacher Michael Lieber, said they were proud of the kids and thankful for the community’s support. Having both schools walk away winners was exciting, she added.

“It was a fun bus ride home,” Anterline said.

2012-13 FIRST LEGO ROBOTICS • Emmet Belknap Robot Rockers (sixth-graders)won Project Award, will compete Dec. 9 in Finger Lakes regional. • North Park Junior High Loc Blocks (seventh-graders) and System Upgrade (eighth-graders)won Champion's Award, Teamwork Award and Overall Robot Performance, System Upgrade will compete Dec. 9 in Finger Lakes region.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.