On Sunday afternoon in the gym at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Spokane Valley, four girls put their robot Noisy through its paces, watching the preprogrammed autonomous bot move Lego bricks.
The reason for the robot’s name?
“It’s quite loud,” Maddie Miner said.
Maddie, along with Julia Barr, Katherine Kovich and Grace Dierks, are members of the St. Mary’s Robotics Club. And the four-member team Lego Superheroes is hoping to build on its winning history.
In January, Lego Superheroes won the grand championship at the First Lego League Eastern Washington finals and set their sights on the First Robotics World Festival in Houston on April 15-18.
There are 655 teams in Washington, and just two winning teams from the West Side and one team from Eastern Washington qualified for the larger stage.
It’s a repeat visit for the Lego Superheroes. Last year, they also took the top prize in the Eastern Washington finals and traveled to the world event, but Malaysia took first place.
Multiple awards are up for grabs at the world festival. Scores are based on robot design, a research presentation, core values and robot games.
“For us, any award would be the equivalent to winning Worlds,” Grace said.
The First Lego League includes teams of students in grades 4-8 who must build a robot designed to perform specific tasks from scratch. Team Lego Superheroes is somewhat unique in that they are all eighth-graders and all girls.
They spoke about common misconceptions regarding robotics competitions.
“People think it’s all run by boys,” Maddie said.
“They see us as nerds.”
“But we’re all pretty sporty, though.”
In the robot game competition, students have 2 minutes, 30 seconds to make their robots do as many tasks as possible.
“There’s a definite strategy, and these girls have figured out what strategy works for them,” head coach Keith Miner said.
He’s especially proud the girls designed the robot independently and didn’t follow a template.
“It’s completely engineered from their brains,” he said.
Julia is responsible for much of the programming.
“I like science, technology and engineering,” she said. “But I also like that we do research on ways to improve our community.”
Indeed, the competition isn’t just about robots. Teams are tasked with a research project involving a real world problem in order to find a real world solution.
“We focused on E Scooter safety,” Katherine said. “We wanted to add things to encourage helmet use. We’re working on a way to disinfect helmets.”
Knowing that many electric scooter users don’t wear helmets, Grace said they’re working to design a “cool-looking helmet.”
Teams also are evaluated on how well they demonstrate the core values of the First Lego League. Those values include teamwork, inclusion, innovation and gracious professionalism.
“Core values are the heart of robotics,” Maddie said.
This trip to the world festival will be a bit bittersweet.
“It’s the last year of Lego Superheroes,” Julia said. “We’re going to different high schools.”
But the girls are proud of how far they’ve come together.
“We’ve proven that girly girls can do robots,” Maddie said.
Then she laughed.
“Not that we’re girly girls.”
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