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Teams compete in state robotics tournament

Date: 12/13/2013

By Carley Dangona

AGAWAM – This Saturday, students and their robots will take the stage to compete in a FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) LEGO League (FLL) qualifying tournament.

The sixth annual event takes place Dec. 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Agawam Junior High School, 1305 Springfield St. This year’s theme is “Nature’s Fury.” Student-constructed robots will have to navigate natural disaster scenarios to score points in a two and a half minute mission. Teams were also required to complete a design related to the topic for the Project category of judging

Scoring will also evaluate how well each student team executed the core values of the league. Top teams will be given Golden Tickets to participate in Massachusetts State Championship Tournament that will take place on Dec. 21 at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Students in kindergarten to twelfth grade can participate in one of four levels. The Jr. FLL serves kindergarten through third grade, FLL is comprised of students in fourth to eighth grade, FIRST Tech Challenged has members in seventh to twelfth grade and FIRST Robotics Competition participants are in ninth to twelfth grade. The competition progresses from a creation of a model for a robot to constructing a 120-pound robot.

Reminder Publications had the chance to catch up with the No Named Ninjas, an FLL and one of five Agawam Robotics Education Association Inc. teams, just days prior to the tournament. The team is sponsored by the Agawam Robotics Education Association Inc. and Mossmann Family Dental. A total of 24 teams from the Commonwealth will compete, with only seven Golden Tickets awarded for RoboNautica, the state championship.

James and Jared Anziano, ages 10 and 8 respectively, both joined FIRST out of their love of LEGOs.

Why did Christian Rua, age 10, join? “FLL teaches you to work as a team. You can’t do all of this on your own. FLL teaches skills to make interesting things like the robot,” he said. Rua mentors a Jr. FLL team as well.

“FLL is a way to make new friends and to share ideas,” Heather Iserman, 11, said.

All four students were both excited and somewhat nervous about the tournament. They described FLL as “inspiring, technical, scientific and awesome.”

When this reporter asked how they encourage other students to join FLL, the students answered that they explain the benefits of the programs such as an opportunity to construct things, use computer programs, make friends and practice teamwork.

Alison Bessette, an Agawam High School student and former FLL member, is one of four coaches for the team. She is also a member of Rosie Robotics, the town’s FIRST Robotics Competition team. Her brother created the team as his Eagle Scout Project.

Dana Henry, the FIRST senior mentor for Massachusetts, said it is commonplace to have students come back to help. He anticipates many visits from former participants while they are on college break for the upcoming holiday season. He has worked with the FIRST program for 13 years.

“The whole philosophy behind FIRST is to get kids excited about math and science again. The program provides an introduction to the engineering process, working hard and interacting with professionals [in the field]. I am absolutely in awe of the people we work with on a daily basis,” Henry said.

He told the story that two of the judges for the first competition that Rosie Robotics took part in were the two people who invented the Internet. “These are the type of people kids are exposed to at all levels of FIRST,” Henry added. He stated that companies such as National Instruments, United Technologies Corporation, 3M, General Motors, PTC, NASA and more donate resources and money to the FIRST program.

Henry explained that the students use a version of the same National Instruments software that is used to test aircraft cells to program the robots they build. “All this effort is done to give these kids every advantage, contact and opportunity to replace ourselves [the coaches and mentors] and to [for them] to go on to be whatever they want to be. I’ve replaced myself a couple hundred times,” he said.

“Students learn to work hard, compete like crazy and practice gracious professionalism or ‘Act like your grandmother is watching,’” Henry said. “It’s a lot of work, but when you finally see the light bulb come on – the eureka moment – all the work pays off.”

While the theme was announced last year, the explicit details of the competition requirements were released at the end of this past August. The No Named Ninjas have been preparing ever since.

For the Project portion of the competition, the team created a Blizzard Blanket for situations when the power goes out during a winter storm. In addition to providing waterproof protection and warmth, the blanket has multiple pockets that each contains a different item.

Those items are a solar phone charger built into a crankable radio, food, a mess kit, a water purificator, a mulit-tool, a bag of extra clothes with cash inside, an inflatable pillow, extra batteries, flashlights, a first aid kit, portable games such as Uno, duct tape and a spare blanket.

The No Named Ninjas’ robot, CARLOS MOUSTACHE 2 will compete in five matches where multiple natural disasters are simulated including a hurricane, a tsunami and an earthquake.

For each task, the students have programmed the robot to complete activities such as rescuing pets from danger, safely trimming tree branches over power lines, bringing water and other supplies to victims, clearing a path for emergency personnel, activating detour signals and much more.

For more information about AREA, contact Henry at 237-0539 or