From left, Alex Carroll, Charlie Kidder, Shane Fort and Kayla Oates practice April 4 for the Robofest World Competition at the St. Pete Beach Recreation Center.
ST. PETE BEACH - It started last summer when St. Pete Beach Recreation Director Jennifer McMahon saw the impact a robotics program at the Science Center of Pinellas had on her 10-year-old son.
She thought the concept would be great for St. Pete Beach. So McMahon, hobbyist Alan Oates, City Commissioner Jim Parent and his wife Leslie came together late last summer to kick off a youth robotics program at the Recreation Center that later evolved into a competitive robotics team called the Lego Terrestrials.
The idea took off and so did the seven team members. In November, they won a local Robofest competition and in mid-March finished second in a regional competition in Oldsmar. Next up is the World Competition May 16-17 in Detroit where the LTs will be going up against teams from around the United States, as well as England, Canada, China, France, India, South Korea and Singapore. They will compete with other junior teams in grades 4 to 8.
Members of the St. Pete Beach team are Alex Carroll, 9; Shane Fort, 10; Dannick Febrizio, 10; Charlie Kidder, 9; Kayla Oates, 11, Jamison Solomon, 12; and William Solomon, 9.
“It’s cool for them and they’re excited when they win a trophy,” said McMahon.
Robofest features autonomous robots that act independently and are not remote controlled. Using a Lego Mindstorms kit, the LTs built a small robot that they programmed to do a variety of tasks.
They walked away with the local competition in November, winning both first place overall and the people’s choice award. Last month at Nielsen, in Oldsmar, they finished second overall and third in the people’s choice balloting to earn a spot in the World Competition at Lawrence Tech in Detroit.
“We’re going to win,” said Alan Oates, who acts as the group’s main coach.
Robofest gives teams a problem to solve using their robots. The 2014 game is called “Avoid Meltdown” and sets a mission for the young science whizzes to complete. This year’s mission is a fictitious power plant that is in trouble.
In this case, the playing field is a 32-inch by 72-inch tabletop.
Teams must program their robots to independently deliver three water balls (tennis balls) and a special ball (a hard-boiled egg) into the plant (a cardboard box) without any help from team members or their coaches. The robot can carry only one ball at a time and two concrete blocks (AA batteries) near the plant need to be removed from the table – all in 120 seconds. Team members are given the size of the box 30 minutes before the competition starts. Those numbers dictate the way they program the robot to drop the tennis balls and egg into the box.
The LTs robot, which was designed and built exclusively by the team members without any adult help, uses ultra-sonic sensors to locate and measure the size of the box. Light sensors keep the motorized unit from falling off the table.
Robofest, which is organized by Lawrence Tech, has been around since 2000 and more than 14,000 students have participated. But it’s not inexpensive to go to the World Competition.
Parent estimates the cost at about $800 to $1,000 per team member. Donations have been good, but additional funds would be gladly accepted.