'Super' the Lego robot navigates obstacle courses
A group of younger kids crowd around them, alternately cheering or groaning, depending on the robot's performance.
Langlois and Abdel-Dayem are among the nine members of the Sudbury Legonauts, which is heading to the FIRST Lego League provincial championships at the University of Waterloo on Jan. 11.
The team won the right to go to the competition after winning first place and the Robot Game Award at the local FIRST Lego League competition at Science North earlier this fall.
FIRST Lego League is a worldwide robotics program for youth ages nine to 14 and is designed to get children excited about science and technology, and teach them valuable employment and life skills.
Not only do they build a robot out of Lego capable of running an obstacle course, they are required to do a research project, which they, in turn, present to a group of judges.
Because the theme for this year's project is helping people in disaster zones, this year the Sudbury Legonauts designed fashionable masks for people living in an area where volcanic ash affects the air quality.
Langlois, who has been participating in the team for five years, said he learned how to design Lego robots from older team members. Now he's a mentor to young team mentors himself.
“I learned off everyone else, and everyone else, I hope, is learning off me,” he said.
Langlois explains that it's important to build a robot with a low centre of gravity so it won't tip over, as well as treads so it has good traction.
He said he's looking forward to attending the provincial championships, a competition he's already been to twice in the past.
Because FIRST Lego League stresses a value dubbed “co-opertition,” or co-operating within competition, participants are expected to be congenial.
“When it gets to the table, no one's mean to one another, but it's quite tense,” Langlois said. “You're trying to best the other people with being nice, so you don't speak very much.”
Abdel-Dayem, who at 15 still qualifies to participate because she was 14 when the FIRST Lego League season started, is also a member of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School's robotics team.
She said her participation in Legonauts over the past three years has taught her the basics of robotics, something she hopes to be able to put to use on her school team.
“This has really helped me,” Abdel-Dayem said. “I have also made nine of the best friends I can ever ask for.”
The Legonauts are led by Stephanie Langille and Chanda Grylls-Mahaffy, who both have children on the team.
Given that six of team's nine members are homeschooled, FIRST Lego League gives them a chance to get hands-on experience in a number areas of the curriculum, including science, mathematics and public speaking, Langille said.
More than that, it teaches the children teamwork, she said.
“They range from nine-year-olds to 14 and 15-year-olds,” said Langille, who has been involved in FIRST Lego League for five years.
“They all get along, they all work together. They all embrace each other's differences and strengths and understand each other. For us, the growth through the season just amazes us every year.”