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Thursday, January 23, 2020
Connecting Our Communities

Young competitors use robotics to help shape the city of the future

FIRST Lego League participants ramping up for big competition this weekend in Waterloo

The local young tinkerers are back at it again this year, with two local FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League teams showing off their autonomous robots and innovation projects at a practice tournament last weekend.

The St. Clements Wild Goats and the Elmira Space Chickens, along with several other teams, honed their presentation skills at EDSS on Saturday to prepare for their official competition in Waterloo on November 30. This year’s theme is “City Shaper.”

Among the highlights of the event included autonomous robots completely constructed by Lego Mindstorm technology. Teams must program their robot to complete as many tasks as possible within a certain timeframe to win points.

“The Wild Goats found some of their missions worked smoothly, and others did not,” said team coach Jason Jantzi. “They were able to get their robot to successfully stop on the bridge at the end of the match for additional points.”

Team members Tyler MacDonald, Hudson Jantzi, Connor Jantzi, Kayia MacDonald, Brooklyn Alpaugh, Connor Cheng, Tanner Cheng, and Beth Alphaugh met weekly for the past couple of months to ensure that their robot, “Billy the Goat,” was in top shape.

“Our robot did pretty well. We had a few issues with the predictability of it because the board we were practicing on was a bit worn,” said Beth Alpaugh.

“I think we’re going to try to use more sensors to make our sensors more predictable, so then we won’t have these kinds of issues.”

Another component of the day’s activities was sharing the results of their innovation projects. Each team is challenged to find a solution to a real-world problem that affects their community. Examples of topics include food safety, recycling, and energy. These findings are then presented to the judges.

“We went to the Waterloo Region recycling centre,” said Alpaugh. “We found that there is an issue of people putting their recycling in the garbage or their garbage in the recycling. And also that there weren’t any recycling bins in our local parks at all.”

Recycled items can’t be shipped away to be reused if they are contaminated. To combat this problem of improper recycling practices, the Wild Goats shared their idea of a “Smart Sorter,” which uses artificial intelligence to sort between garbage and recycling.

Once an item is placed in the waste container, the smart sorter would use a camera to determine if it is garbage or recycling, and that tells the Arduino microcontroller, which will then use motors to move the item to the correct container. It would ideally be installed in parks, ball diamonds, and other public spaces.

“All of The Wild Goats team members from last year returned for the second year of FLL since they had such a successful and fun time learning and participating from the first season,” said Jantzi. “As a coach, I could really see the kids develop and learn new skills which hopefully they can continue to develop and apply to other areas.”

The LEGO League also nurtures teambuilding core values and looks at how these values can be applied to everyday life, including discovery, innovation, impact, inclusion, and teamwork.

Wild Goats team member Hudson Jantzi added that participating in FLL has also been a bonding experience, as the same group members also got together for the 2018 FIRST Lego League event.

“It’s really helped us get to know each other better and we’re definitely more comfortable with one another,” said Hudson.

The team noted that the community had been particularly supportive of their endeavours this year.

“Last year we only had one sponsor but this year we have plenty. We got sponsors by going door to door in St. Clements and just asking companies if they would sponsor us and we did really good,” said Alpaugh.

The official competition will take place at St. David Catholic Secondary School in Waterloo this Saturday. Three local teams will be attending: the Elmira Space Chickens, St. Clements Wild Goats, and the St. Jacobs Super Stingers.

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