Often children are given a large box of Legos and simply expected to play with them. Millennium Charter Academy students have been given Legos as part of the county-wide robotics competition and asked to solve a problem for local seniors.
This year’s competition challenges include asking teams to build and program robots to accomplish a variety of tasks on a timed course. Senior solutions is another task given the teams who must also be judged on a formal presentation of their project.
According to Lego League Team coach Brittany Branch, the team has designed a small prototype reverse circuit pressure plate as a switch to turn on lights so seniors can see to travel to the bathroom. When a person lies down on a bed the weight cuts the lighting off. When weight is taken off the mattress, the pressure plate turns lights on.
“It originated from our interviews with seniors,” said robotics team member Elizabeth Campbell. “We found out medications, for instance, make seniors have to use the bathroom often. Poor lighting can cause them to trip and fall and break a hip which affects them for the rest of their life.”
Branch reports that the team went to great lengths to research their wording and approach to interviewing seniors because they wanted to be respectful and compassionate. The team indicated they were surprised with the responses they received. Browne said she only got to ask a single question of one senior, who talked to her for an hour.
“We talked with an electrician to find out how to make the bulbs to light up dimly so not to blind the person,” added teammate Laura Browne. “We also wanted to make sure the lights were not so bright they might wake up another person.”
Campbell said she went to her grandmother, Marguerite Karl, and interviewed her to help the team decide on a problem to solve. Karl calls the team weekly for an update on the project.
The team has named their robot Tofer, and a Lego dog on their race course was named Tweeter. This is in honor of a blue heeler dog from the neighborhood that frequents the school. Tasks the team is programming the little robot to do include dragging a Lego chair back to a certain area for repair, triggering a Lego dog named Tweeter to run to another area of the robot’s race course.
Branch said the group is preparing for its Nov. 3 competition, which also includes solving the senior problem as well as being graded on its teamwork. She said this is a first time for her and the team at this type of competition. She is only allowed to facilitate and encourage the team. The rules of the league do not allow her help the team directly.
“It’s a lot to do in two months. I was impressed with how professional they were. They spent two weeks deciding on the language they would use in their interviews so they would be sensitive to the seniors,” said Branch. “It was important to them to do something for their community. They wanted to find a way to help seniors maintain their independence.”
Campbell and Browne explained at first the group explored an application for their phones that would suggest stretches for areas of the body that were hurting because of sleeping in one position for too long. They said the solution for this was too expensive for their budget.
The robot must be pre-programmed to perform its tasks along the course and is not under the direct control of the team after it is activated.
“I am amazed with them,” said Branch. “They had built the reverse pressure circuit before I walked into the classroom that day. They just go on with it.”
Most of the team said they had interests in science, technology, engineering and math prior to volunteering for the league.
“We are pretty much solving our own future problems,” said team member Noah Willingham. “It’s a lot of trial and error. We’ve learned there’s going to be a day that doesn’t go like you planned but we usually get something done.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1952.