Monday, September 14, 2009

First Lego League Expo at Crabtree Valley Mall

Tom Settle is amazing when it comes to organizing First Lego League events. For those of you who don't know Tom, he teaches classes around the triangle for new First Lego League team members. To recruit new FLL teams in NC, Tom held a mock tournament at the Crabtree Valley Mall on Sunday 9/13. Hundreds of people showed up to watch and Tom explained how FLL works for five hours.

Tom asked several people from area teams to participate in this event, including members of the Microbots, Spacebots, Megallan Mariners, Metalic Waves, Tie-Died Tangerines, and others. Tom interviewed the teams and the coaches. Additionally, several team members from Team Awkward Turtle FRC showed up to referee the mock tournament. Several Microbots brought their robot and attachments, but boy, we really had no idea what to expect!

Early morning setup

The kids had a blast! It was not about winning and losing but just about having a good time. The Lego Store set up a booth and gave out information about the NXT. Several folks committed to forming new teams. Joe Meno took pictures for the upcoming Brick Journal. It was fantastic!

Afterwards, we went to the Kanki steakhouse with Al Childers, coach of the Magellian Mariners and Kyle Brown, coach of the Spacebots. I believe that these teams may be favored to win the NC FLL State Championship this year (but this should serve to motivate your team to knock them off :-)). Both coaches are veterans with wonderful teams.

Chris Childers had dinner with us and we finally got the opportunity to thank him for all that he had done to inspire us our first year. Chris has video of the young Microbots working with the 2006 NC FLL State Champion Magellian Mariners. I look forward to possibly posting it soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mastering First Lego League Part 2: Calibrating the Robot

This is the second in a series of articles about both basic and advanced techniques that can help your FIRST LEGO League team achieve mastery of the robot and the game. This article discusses the calibration of your robot as you prepare to solve this year’s challenges. It examines several aspects of robotics including the languages, drivers, motors, turns, and some of the elements that influence accuracy. In Part III of this on-going series, we will discuss the program framework, a necessary component for optimal robot running.

We finishing up the second installment of Mastering First Lego League for Brick Journal. This article also looks at things like batteries. We conducted a series of tests using Energizer Lithium Batteries. This article talks briefly about these tests and more tests will be forthcoming.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Mastering First Lego League

This month's Brick Journal features the first part of a series of articles about First Lego League. Part I starts with the expected "What is First Lego League?" However, instead of the dry, marketing information that this sort article generally solicits, we talk about some of the intrinsic values that make an FLL team successful. We also talk about setting expectations properly in your first year.

Next issue's article in this same series talks about "Calibrating the Robot" which will be released just in time for competition. Look for articles in future Brick Journal magazines about practical techniques for YAMs (Young Adult Mentors), programming, building robots, and how to get ready for competition.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Crabtree Valley Mall Lego Store

What does Raleigh, North Carolina have in common with Honolulu, Hawaii? They both have Lego Stores of course. If you have been following the Microbots, you'll see that they have been involved with the Crabtree Valley Mall Lego Store from its announcement. This month, we have a new announcement with respect to the Lego Store in Raleigh.

This month's community window features a First Lego Display that we put together. Among the displayed items is last year's North Carolina State Championship trophy. Additionally, you'll see our unique robot as well (trust me, it is one of a kind and way cool!). Stop by and check out the window in the back of the store.

By the way, we got the Smart Move challenge in the mail. It is too cool! Good luck to all of the teams this year! The Microbots are probably not going to compete. Some members seem to be moving on to FTC while others are moving on to FIRST with Team Awkward Turtle. But who knows, many a rock band has said that they are broken up only to have a reunion tour. Some of the team members are pursuing Smart Move just in case. We'll be at the Regional and State Championships either as competitors or volunteers.

Oh, and that is a gold NXT Brick! It was one of the things that made us stand out at the National Championship.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

There is nothing micro about these bots

We went to the First LEGO® League United States Open Championship in Dayton and we had a blast! We all got into the "busmobile" and drove up with Joe Meno on Wednesday. There was a huge Gameboy battle going on in the car as we all joined in and played. Once we got to the hotel, we went swimming and then to bed.

Thursday began with a practice in a conference room. We hadn't finished our second run and so we worked on it quite a bit. In the afternoon, we went to the Air Force Museum and saw the big airplanes. After a movie at the Imax, we went back to work practicing our runs. We were trying to get a 400!

On Friday, we were all tired from staying up way too late but we had to do our interviews. The research interview is our best so it was great that it was first. We thought that we did quite well and it gave us a lot of energy for the next one, the technical interview. We were happy with that one too. Finally, we had the teamwork interview and it was great too! Back to work on our runs.

On Friday night, we met with our alliance partners. We were all so tired and so we pretty much went to bed and let Rebekah organize the alliance runs. She worked with our two younger partners and really showed how we work. Clark and Benjamin went up to the rooms and got Mohawks to show their team spirit! We had to be our best for the runs on Saturday.

Our first run was 105 and it was great! We were getting 40s in practice so maybe we just set a low bar. The judges were very precise about the scoring rules so points were tougher to get. More work and the next run was 210. What an improvement! Our third run was a disappointing 150. It was ok though, we never gave up! Patrick gave it everything that he had to get Joe (our robot) back on track.

Finally, it was time for the awards. All the research awards were given out and we didn't win one. They were down to two categories, teamwork and overall.

"This home school team might not be large in numbers, but their team strength is not micro. Their vacuum cleaner team activity even passed dust particles from member to member. Team work demonstrated fluid movements with high energy with little effort."

We knew when they talked about our vaccuum cleaner (this was our team project) that we had gotten first place in the teamwork category! It was great! What a terrific end to the season!

It was a great tournament! We felt that it was our responsibility to represent our state the best that we could through gracious professionalism. We also wanted to get a 400. We did get our 400, not on the table, but in the teamwork. There isn't a better 400 than that!

The tournament was so well run and organized! Thank you Kathy Levine and Joe Meno! Thank you to our alliance partners! Thanks to all of the teams and staff that made this so memorable!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Go Big Red

We enjoyed spending time at the U.S. Open National Championship with our alliance partners, the Lightning Stars(Omaha, NE) and the Wagga Wagga Warriors(Oak Ridge, TN). We learned so much from you and you both define the spirit of gracious professionalism! Thank you so much for cheering for us and coming over to see us after the awards! You are truly great teams! Please keep in touch!

Go Big Red!

Your friends,
The Microbots
(Rebekah, Zach, Patrick, Benjamin, Clark, and Tad)
PS Thank you Magellan Mariners for teaching us (during our first year) the right way to run an alliance round. We didn't win but we had more fun than any other alliance partnership. We hope that we correctly passed on the lesson to our alliance partners.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Representing North Carolina

Perhaps nothing is more wonderful than receiving the support of our fellow FLL teams from North Carolina. We are heading to Dayton in three days and several teams from our state sent us emails wishing us luck! We thank them for all of their kind words and for taking the moment to wish us well. They truly define gracious professionalism and the FLL values! We would not be the team that we are if it were not for the excellence of our peers in NC. Thank you again for setting such a great example and for the friendly competition and cooperation. You have made the 2008-2009 FLL season stellar!

------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -
Go get 'em Microbots!

Thanks for the update, Mike. We'll be praying not only that you represent NC well, but especially bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ in how you conduct yourselves.

In His service,

Ken - Techno Alliance

____________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _________ _

Good Luck to the Microbots at the U.S. Open National Championship! It sounds like your hard work and determination have paid off! We're proud to have you represent NC! Have a fun and safe trip!

Mayberry Maniacs I and II
Karen T. Hodges, Coach
J. Sam Gentry Middle School
Mount Airy, NC

------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -
On behalf of the Terminators, the SmartBots, and We the People, and all of us FLL-types at the Scholars' Academy, good luck to the Microbots.

************ ********* ********* ********* *****
David Johnston
Technology Administrator
Metrolina Regional Scholars' Academy

------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -

Good luck from the Magellan Mariners! Be sure to send some photo and place you 400 on YouTube! The kids (and many others) would love to see it.

Best of luck,
Your Magellan Mariner Friends
Al, Eric, Chris and the rest of the gang.

------------ --------- --------- --------- --------- --------- -


And have FUN! What a great finale for your team!! NC is behind you every LEGO brick of the way : )

Keeps us posted on how it all transpires!
Marie Hopper

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting Ready for the U.S. Open Championship

With only a week to go until we leave for Dayton, the Microbots are in crunch mode. Having completely redesigned the robot, the team had to redo all of the programs. Next week, we will pile into a large van with Joe Meno and the coaches and travel to Dayton. For those that want to join us, you can get more information here.

See you there!

Friday, April 24, 2009

NXT version 2.0

In Atlanta, we saw the new version (2.0) of the NXT kit. With registration just around the corner (Registration will open on May 4, 2009!), I wonder if the new cool parts will be part of the Lego Education kit. It would be cool if they were in there too!

This is the new robot that looks like the old one but better!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FLL Videos from the World Festival

Here are some videos from the NXT booth at the World Festival in Atlanta

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Something to Remember

On December 5th 2008, our FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team won our state’s competition. Unfortunately North Carolina didn’t qualify for the automatic bid to the World Festival in Atlanta, where FLL teams from all around the world compete. We also didn’t get chosen for the Ambassador’s Award, which is another way teams get chosen to compete in the World Festival. Initially we were disappointed. However we did receive an automatic bid to the first ever FLL United States Open Championship in Dayton, Ohio on May 7th to 9th and we’re very excited about competing there.

In the three days we are there, we will compete in the same events that we did in the state competition. In the research presentation, we will do a skit about water conservation in Cary NC, and Brisbane AU, show off our Lego H2O house, and talk about our other numerous research topics like our website, outreach and stop motion movie. In the technical interview we will explain to the judges how we cleverly came up with our robot design, run our robot, and describe our programs. In the teamwork interview, which is the last interview on Friday, a judge will ask us a few questions about how we work together as a team and then he/she will we give us a challenge to complete. Finally, in the robot missions on Saturday, we will run our robot on the table in an attempt to get a 400 point score in under two and a half minutes. We’ll have three tries. The competition culminates with the Award Ceremony.

In the competition we will do lots of other things besides compete. The pit pod is where our team and five other teams will rest and store our equipment. We will dress for the event by putting on our vivid orange and blue Microbots shirts and blue Microbots hats. Some of us will daringly sport Mohawks and dye our hair! Some teams are planning a scavenger hunt that we can do while we are resting in our pit pod. We will hand out and trade team buttons. Excitedly, we will tour the National Museum of the United States Air Force, which is open after hours for just FLL teams. We will also have a pizza party.

It will be something to remember!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spotlight on One Great Builder (and Animator too)

We haven't spotlighted the various Microbots in this blog but it is time to give credit where it is due. While each of the Microbots brings their own special talent to the team, Clark I. has built many of the Microbot's robots and quite a few of the attachments. His work continues to get more and more complex.

Clark has emerged as a leader on the team. His title is the "Sergeant at Arms" of the Microbots. The title comes from various law making bodies, where the role is charged with maintaining security in the law making establishment, as well as protection of the law makers themselves. I am not sure how he came to have this title but it is one that all Microbots know and respect.

The robot below was built at his birthday party, a sleep-over, and the video was made showing its movement.

He has also produced the following videos:

Perhaps his best work is:
what your legos do when your not looking

Look for more of his work - coming soon!

Greetings from Atlanta

April 15th is usually known as Tax Day in the United States but it also marked the opening on the 2009 World Festival in Atlanta. We arrived early Wednesday morning. The taxi driver on the way from Hartsfield airport told us he had been told to expect 60,000. As we got out of the taxi and looked at the World Congress Center, we wondered how they would be able to fit 60,000 in the center.

When we arrived, the place was empty. The robots were tucked away in their cabanas. Since we didn't know where the conference was, the robots were no help.

We were looking for someone to tell us if the lack of people had something to do with the economy. We finally came across a man who looked a little down on his luck so we decided to ask him.
"Where is everyone?"
He was reluctant to answer. No wonder he was sitting on a park bench.

We finally found someone who could help us. It's the information guy from FIRST! We were glad to see him and he seemed glad to see us.
"Where is everyone?"
"The conference doesn't start until 3pm!"

Wow! Were we early. But it was well worth it!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who says kids must do the work? (Lego Store Work Part 2)

Building the models for the Lego Store is hard work as several of the Microbot parents learned first hand. The custom pool scene comes complete with various characters lounging around a pool.

The Lego scenes appeared to be easy but as we know in First Lego League, simple appearances can be deceiving. The Lego store party invited both parents and children to build the custom Legos. Kate I. jumped in and helped out. The result was this awesome pool scene. But where is the pool?

The pool was the last part to be built and so Daved S. gave it a shot. The directions were not for a single piece but for multiple layers in each shot. David gave up after spending a half hour on it.

In jumped Mr. Fix-It and Joe Meno and the pool finally came together.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Preparation for the Lego Store opening

Today the Microbots united once again to help Lego with its new store which is soon to open in Raleigh, North Carolina. While the Microbots were not the only children present they were never hard to find as they were flashing their classic Microbot orange t's. Hard at work building away at whatever they can get their hands as the room was filled with excitement.

Though building new and exciting sets never seen before was certainly a highlight they are always gracious to help others. A group of five children similar in age to the team from a local montesorri school showed an interest in what the Microbots were all about. Never wasting time to share and speak out they quickly assembled into their groups and held an open question and answer session about First Lego League. The childrens eyes widened as the conversations intensified about competition and all the details on how to prepare. Though shocked at first at the amount of time and work the Micorbots put in this will surely be yet another group of kids who will assemble and become a team representing the Tar Heel State.

Summer Camp

Last year, several of the Microbots went to two weeks of Summer Camp at Cary Academy. Those who went said that it was really worth it so here are the dates in case you are interested...

Robotics with Lego Mindstorms - Beginner 320.510 July 6 - July 10 9am - 4pm 4th - 7th 15
Robotics with Lego Mindstorms -Intermediate 321.610 July 13 - July 17 9am - 4pm 4th - 7th 15
Robotics with Lego Mindstorms - Advanced 322.710 July 20 - July 24 9am - 4pm 5th - 8th 15

The Richmond FIRST Regional

Coach Medina and Coach Miller took a couple of us to the FIRST Regional in Richmond. It was the first time that we had the opportunity to go to "the pits", interact with a FIRST team during competition, and see victory and defeat. Our mentor, Tatiana, is part of the team. FRC is a different game than FLL. There are three winners, not one and teams must work together, even if they face each other in the next round.

Coach Miller worked with Team Awkward Turtle because their programming coach left during the season. He worked with the programming team to support them as they wrote the code that drives the robot. As a result, he learned all about the "FRC game". His impression was that "FRC teaches some really good values. Teams help each other, share ideas, and always compete in alliances." It is less individualistic than FLL.

FRC is much tougher than FLL. Building the guts of the robot requires so much more work that building an NXT. Can the Microbots do it? I don't know but I do know that I want to begin to learn how.

Meeting with Joe Meno

Joe Meno is the editor-in-chief of Brick Journal. He also lives in the Raleigh area. On Friday, March 13th, at Colonial Baptist Church, the Microbots, Zachary P.(a friend of Joe's), and Joe Meno got together to discuss Lego Robotics. Joe showed us the very latest in NXT technology. He also loaned us a very special NXT brick for the National competition (you can see it at Nationals - trust me, it is "the bomb"). Although we saw the black one, this one is even more special than that one. :-)

Joe talked about his projects including building a multi-NXT arm in which the NXTs communicate. He spoke about his role covering the World Championship and what it is like to run the world's coolest magazine. The kids looked through his extensive photo collection at the various models and upcoming sets. The Microbots didn't want the night to end.

He also suggested that there might be a forthcoming interview of the team. He also invited them to the Lego building party for the new Lego Store in Raleigh. Joe, You Rock!

Friday, March 13, 2009

From Sadness to Gladness

Middle Creek Community Center is Offering FLL Classes again and they are almost Sold Out - Sign Up Now and tell Tom that the Microbots sent you!

Introduction to FIRST LEGO League (age 8-14)

FLL is an international competition held every year to get students excited about learning Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. In this course students will have the opportunity to try out the previous year’s robot challenge and project. They’ll learn teamwork, problem solving, programming, and a variety of information about our climate. This class will meet for a fraction of the time required during a normal season to give the students a taste of the competition without the full commitment.

Location: Middle Creek Community Center

Instructor: Tom Settle

Fees: $60(R) $78(N) (6 classes)

Age 8-11

39557 Sat Apr 4-May 16 10 a.m.-noon

(no class Apr 11)

Age 12-14

39558 Sat Apr 4-May 16 10 a.m.-noon

(no class Apr 11)

Coach Miller To Present at 2009 FIRST Robotics Conference

We will likely have all of the Microbots at the World Congress in Atlanta (even if we do not get an invitation). We had 2/3rds of them there last year!

Make plans to be in Atlanta for Wednesday, April 15th through the weekend. Hope to see you there!

Look for us at the conference, the FLL championship (hanging out with Joe Meno), or the FIRST Championship (with Team Awkward Turtle, our FIRST buddies - go Turtles - win the Richmond Regional!). We'll be wearing the orange Microbots T-shirts or maybe even a FIRST shirt!

From the 2009 FIRST Robotics Conference

The Pragmatic Use of Variables in FLL

Randy Miller

One of the rubric questions for First Lego League asks about the ability of team members to use variables if applicable. In our rookie year, we did not use any variables and could not see a need for them. However, as we progressed, we asked ourselves, “What can a variable be pragmatically used for in NXT/G and FLL?”This year’s challenge had an obstacle perfectly suited for variables, Find Agreement. We initially solved this challenge using variables but found a quicker, more efficient way to solve the challenge using an attachment. Even so, we found some interesting ways to use variables to solve common FLL problems as well as some limitations to the use of variables in NXT/G. This session will explore the inner workings of variables in NXT/G. It will show common ways to solve problems in FLL using these programming constructs. It will also show some things that will not work but look like they should. We end with a set of tips and tricks as we realize that many have had difficulty figuring out how they work.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What to do?

Wow - it has been a fantastic year and we are getting prepared for the National Championship in May. The robot has been totally redesigned and Clark's new invention surpasses all that have gone before. He and Tad continue to design new attachments.

Meanwhile Patrick and Rebekah have started the unenviable task of building new programs. The run sequence has changed and so must the programs. Finally, Zach and Benjamin have examined the troubling task of how to fit it all into 2.5 minutes. Coach Medina has given them three weeks to get it all done.

We continue to debate whether we should begin FIRST next year. The team is really young so it might be too early. However, the team continues to impress me with their building and programming skills. FTC might also be an option. Oh, and then there is First Lego League again. Decisions, decisions...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Friday, January 16, 2009

Astronomy Days

If you are interested in First Lego League, come see our demonstration on Saturday, January 24, 2009 noon –5 pm and Sunday, January 25, noon–5 pm at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. We will be there on Saturday and the Spacebots will be there on Sunday. If you stop by on Sunday, say hello to Coach Kyle Brown. Tell him that we sent you :-) The museum holds a First Lego League demo every year during Astronomy Days.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The NC Rookie Challenge

The NC State tournament was actually two tournaments: the NC State Championship and the NC State Rookie Challenge. In the NC State Rookie Challenge, only rookie teams could win. The NC State Championship was held in December while the Rookie Challenge was held January 10th. We volunteered to help out with the second tournament since we could not compete in it and frankly, we still haven't gotten enough of First Lego League.

We saw some very impressive rookie teams including The Barracudas, a team that built a folk lift robot, and won 1st place for their Innovative Design. It was unlike any other robot that we have ever seen. Clark noticed it first and said “Wow – I don’t think that we could have built something like that our first year!”

Another rookie team, Mechanical Mayhem, pulled a 235 on the robot challenge. They were a home schooled team and we asked Coach Brown (of the Spacebots) about how much time they had put into getting such a high score (and learning NXT/G). He said, “Probably as much time as you did.” They won two trophies (Robot Performance and Robot Quality) their first year! Unreal! I know it is the rookie challenge but they could have gotten third place on the table with that score in the State Championship! How about that?

Another impressive rookie team was The Charlie Bytes. We had talked to them about possibly helping them out during the season as they said that they felt that they were having trouble. We could never find a time that worked out. No trouble there except for other teams! They won a first place trophy.

Finally, we met Chris of the Magellan Mariners (see Brush with Greatness) who had a video clip of our team and his in the alliance round on his phone. We were soooo small!

Marie Hopper and Tom Settle did a great job organizing this tournament! They have definitely become new friends of the Microbots. What a great day we had! Tad said, “I want to volunteer to help out with the Rookie Challenge again next year!”