The Tuxedo Pandas, a local robotics team, is hosting a FIRST Lego League Tournament (FLL) Saturday at the Blacksburg Middle School.
Twenty-one teams will be competing on a challenge table with their own built robots.
“On your mark, get set, flow” will be the way students, ages 9-14 years old, will begin each match of the 2017-2018 themed competition of Hydro Dynamics. An autonomous robot that these students built, tested and programmed will complete a set of Lego model missions related to finding, transporting, using and disposing of water.
Robots will need to move a broken pipe, add a water filter, remove sludge, start a water fountain, collect water samples and thirteen other missions.
Teams of students have spent this FLL season thinking like scientists and engineers to understand what happens to water, exploring the location, use, storage and movement of water. People use water every day. Children may not think much about how and why they use water; directly (drinking or washing) or indirectly (manufacturing the products they use or producing energy).
There are a lot of different needs for water. Teams had to choose a part of the human water cycle that interested them and identify a specific problem they want to solve. Once the team has designed a solution, the next step was to share that information to the public and tournament judges.
The Tuxedo Pandas is a part of the New River Robotics Association and a FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team. The FTC students and coaches have helped fourteen of the FLL teams registered to compete Saturday.
With the help of grant money, coaches’ clinics, equipment and moral support, these teams have been learn to work together to gain STEM experience in one or more programming languages, construct a robot with Legos, strategize missions, brainstorm solutions, and design mechanisms to reach goals.
One such FLL team, Robotix Mechanix, was recently formed at the new Pulaski County Youth Center in the old Riverlawn Elementary School in Fairlawn.
The Tuxedo Pandas were contacted by Tina Martin, the Youth Center project director, in May 2017 to help select a room to become a Robotics Lab. The Tuxedo Pandas cleaned and painted an old classroom over the summer. A mural displaying the levels of FIRST was painted by the Tuxedo Pandas and is a highlight of the classroom.
The blackboards were thoroughly washed and some white boards were added. The Tuxedo Pandas also cleared shrubs outside the classroom windows to allow more sunlight into the room since no lighting currently exists.
Electricity is only available in parts of old school building. Extension cords snake down the hallway to provide power to one halogen tripod work light and a couple of programming laptops. The five elementary school students of Robotix Mechanix do not mind the conditions.
Father, Robert Stanley, was watching his son John interact with his team members while testing their robot on the FLL challenge table.
“John loves to be there. He loves mechanics and Legos. I am supportive of anything that expands his mind,” Stanley said.
Tuxedo Panda Sebastian Wilkinson has been helping Robotix Mechanix as they were problem-solving table missions. Wilkinson was encouraging gracious professionalism, like good listening skills, especially between two students who were having a battle of ideas on how best to program the robot.
First-time FLL Coach Amanda Marshall is a Snowville Elementary first grade teacher whose son, Aiden, is on the team.
“We have done a lot in the short time. The team is doing our best,” Marshall said.
She is anxious about the team’s first competition but the Tuxedo Pandas have been helpful and reassuring that FLL is worth all the work.
The Pulaski County Youth Center is a grassroots non-profit organization to inspire and empower the youth Pulaski County. The center hopes to offer services for at-risk youth, character development, life skills and more.
Project Director Martin said, “We are partnering with other non-profits in the community in hopes the center can be a hub for youth organizations.”
The first such opportunity was the NRRA and the Tuxedo Pandas.
“We appreciate the Tuxedo Pandas for their guidance,” Martin said.
Grand opening of this facility is set for January 2018 with many activities, like FLL, already scheduled to get community involvement.
The public is encouraged to stop by the BMS and the FLL Tournament on Saturday to see the Robotix Mechanix team, the Tuxedo Pandas, and STEM in action any time from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.