UPPER POTTSGROVE — If you were ever under the misapprehension that Legos were just kids toys, you might not want to mention that to the students in Deborah Frasca’s class.
Frasca teaches the gifted students at Pottsgrove Middle School and now, after three years of trying, they will going to a national competition next month with a robot they built out of Legos and programmed to help seniors suffering from arthritis.
The competition is organized by the First Lego League
and will be held from May 16-20 at, where else? — Legoland in California.
On Tuesday, the Pottsgrove School Board unanimously approved the $13,000 trip to Carlsbad, Calif.
Their robot is named Esteban because, with its two prongs sticking out front, it looks like an elephant, explained eighth grader David Dzordzorme, one of the robot’s programmers.
Along with fellow eighth grader and programmer Brett Lockey and the other members of the Arthritis Avengers, they put Esteban through his paces recently to demonstrate their skill and the robot’s effectiveness.
“The theme is ‘Senior Solutions’ to help seniors with their every day problems,” explained 6th grader Frazier Thomas.
Specifically, the Pottsgrove team was tasked with tackling the problems associated with arthritis.
In order to ensure they had the proper perspective, they enlisted the grandmother of one of the students who not only explained to them how arthritis had affected her life, but also helped them formulate ways a robot could help her through her day, Frasca explained.
Among the discoveries they made?
As it turns out, the Esteban the robot is a pretty good bowler.
For the purposes of the competition, the robot must successfully accomplish a set of tasks and each one must be accomplished within two minutes and 30 seconds.
To get to this level of competition, the team first had to take first place at a regional competition, which they did earlier this year during an event held at Owen J. Roberts.
Then it was on to a larger pool of competitors in a competition held at the University of Pennsylvania.
There, they placed second but when the first-place team decided they could not make the trip to California, the Pottsgrove team eagerly stepped into the breach.
In California, they will face off against 72 other teams from around the country which have all been developing solutions to similar problems.
What makes this competition different, Frasca explained, is that unlike typical robot wars where a handled is using a controller to dictate the robot’s actions, the robots that will converge on Legoland will be entirely autonomous, working completely on their programming without any human interference.
But it is more than just mastering the technology. The competition also has the teams focus on core values that describe their team and their effort.
Pottsgrove’s included “inclusion, integration, discovery, sacrifice, respect and cooperatition” — a “new word” combining cooperation and competition.
“Some of these we chose because they traced back to our personalities as a team,” said Dzordzorme.
The others, Lockey explained, “were supposed to be demonstrated by all in their core values and shoe how they exhibited that throughout their work.”
And just in case you thought technology was a little dry as a subject, the Arthritis Avengers injected a little bit of showmanship into their presentations by dressing as super-heros.
As bold a move as that is, they declined to provide photos of their costumed selves for general public consumption.
“We also had a super villain named ‘Evil Arthritis’ and we would show the ways we are going to fight against with our solution,” said Dzordzorme.
“Basically show the ways we would battle arthritis with our invention,” added Lockey.