RoboCreepers to compete in state championship

RoboCreepers to compete in state championship

The RoboCreepers team, from left, are Joey Fucci, 10, of Lincoln, Abbey Kratman, 11, of Lincoln, Sebastian Pacheco, 11, of Providence, and Jameson Smith, 12 of Lincoln. They are the sole team that represents Lincoln, and are moving on to the state championships of the FIRST Lego League robotics and design competition. (Breeze photos by Brittany Ballantyne)
Lincoln’s competitive Lego team wins at qualifier

LINCOLN – A team of middle schoolers and one elementary student who’ve been planning, designing and building Lego robots, saw their work rewarded at the 2015 FIRST Lego League competition, where they qualified to move on to the state championship at Roger Williams University in Bristol on Saturday, Jan. 16.

The group goes by the name of “RoboCreepers,” and they work together as a home-based team in Lincoln under the coaching direction of Sue Smith and Peter Fucci.

This group is the town’s only team to compete in this year’s 2015 FIRST (or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) tournaments. On Nov. 21, at the Gordon School in East Providence, RoboCreepers won first place in robot design and performance with a total of 427 points.

The robotics competitions, which are hosted by Rhode Island Students of the Future, aim to “get kids excited about science and technology through a sports-like competition that includes the robots and the research project,” said Mary Johnson, who is on the board of directors for RISF.

These aren’t just robots that move around and make noise, though – they have a purpose. This year’s tournament theme is waste management, where teams program robots to pursue a variety of timed tasks on a 4- by 8-foot plywood table. Team members rescued a Lego turtle from a plastic bag and distributed Lego pieces into a “recycling station.”

Beyond this portion of the competition, team members must work on a research project about the chosen theme. After their studies, RoboCreepers developed an innovative solution, another component of the competition.

RoboCreepers envisioned a barcode app that would help make recycling easier to manage. The idea of the app, Smith explained, is to make it possible to scan items and find exactly where they are to be recycled. Though the app is not developed, Smith said, the team is awarded points based on whether or not their innovative idea could actually be created.

The team and coaches met with David Sale, recycling director, to learn more about the dangers of recycling the wrong materials. Smith said they heard stories of items like dirty diapers that make their way onto the state’s recycling conveyor belt, creating an unsafe environment for workers.

Smith said many people don’t know what the recycling numbers represent on plastic objects, and the app aims to clear up that confusion. Projects and research aside, Smith said, the competition, which is worldwide, is all about working as a team and promoting professionalism.

Core values, another component the judges in these competitions pay close attention to, involve how teammates work with one another and their demeanor with other teams.

Smith said the judges observe teams and mark their performance based on how the teams interact. The judges look to see if any teammate is taking over the project, if any members are excluded and even how well the children know their fellow teammates through a series of questions. Teams can also earn points for lending materials to another group should something go wrong with projects the day of the competition.

“It’s always about helping other people, and that’s how it should be anyway,” Smith said.

The global program for the FIRST Lego League is for children ages 9 to 14, and there are currently 74 teams in Rhode Island. Many of these teams are formed through school clubs, encompassing private, public and vocational schools, but a number of these groups are home-based teams like RoboCreepers. RoboCreepers represent both Lincoln and North Providence.

Teams purchase a Lego product called the EB3 robot system, Johnson said, which is composed of a controller and Lego parts.

From here, participants will produce a code for the robot to follow as it makes its way around the plywood board table.

Johnson said though all teams receive similar kits, each robot looks different, and teams solve problems in a variety of ways. Most of the judges, she said, are engineers or computer scientists currently working in those fields, and say the tournament represents the work they do on a daily basis.

“You can read it in a text book and you can sit in front of a screen and write code exercises, but when you actually have to implement it into a product and it has to be completed on a deadline with co-workers, I think that’s a very different thing,” Johnson said.

Helen Greathouse of Smithfield, who starting judging for FIRST Lego League 10 years ago, said “the robotics competitions are the fastest growing sport in the United States.”

Smith’s son, Jameson, meets with five other teammates twice a week at their home, where the group strategizes and works on all the parts of the competition.

“I think our kids are looking at things differently. I’m looking at things differently. Everything should be able to be recycled, and I think it’s going to be at a point where that’s going to happen, anything you have can be recycled,” Smith said.

She said, “it’s playing and learning and Legos, and you can’t beat that.”

Abbey Kratman of Lincoln, 11, examines a Lego robot with Sebastian Pacheco, also 11, of Providence, during a meeting for their FIRST Lego League team, which won first place in robot design and performance and qualified to move to the state championships this month. The team, which operates out of Lincoln, worked on a research project, robot code and design and developed an innovative solution based around the theme of waste management.