East Hills advances to state robotics competition

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published November 26, 2013

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — In the eight weeks it takes to build and program a robot, members of the East Hills Middle School Robotics Team learned about more than just technology.

“If you’re shy and you don’t like to talk and you join something like the robotics team, you start to get more friends,” said fifth-grader and team member Paulett Aguilar.

“People realize you’re on the team and how cool it is, and they start talking to you about it. You feel more involved.”

The East Hills Hurricanes competed two weeks ago at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit during the FIRST Lego League Nature’s Fury Challenge. FLL is a partnership between Lego Group and FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — and the challenges are open to more than 200,000 children ages 9-14 in more than 70 countries.

The Hurricanes were one of six teams out of 18 chosen to move on to the state competition in Monroe Dec. 7.

Team coach Ruth Casper said the team was formed in August and began practicing for the competition in September.

“The kids were judged on how they built the robot to take on certain obstacles, how it was programmed and also a team research project,” she said.

“They decided, as a team, to research Alaska tundra fires and how they contribute to glacial melting, and built a diorama. They took first prize on that.”

According to FLL, the goal of the Nature’s Fury Challenge was to discover what can be done when “intense natural events meet the places people live, work and play.” The three-part challenge consisted of Robot Games, The Project and Core Values. The Core Values include honoring the spirit of friendly competition, gracious professionalism, team lerning, sharing and embracing the idea that discovery is more important than victory.

Fifth-grader Lauren Sass said the team started out meeting every Monday, but added Wednesdays and Saturdays in order to get more accomplished.

“We were working on our project and the research, as well as programming, to make sure we had each mission done,” she said.

Classmate Michael Najor said actually attaching the Lego arm to the robot was the easy part.

“Then, you have to program all of the information into the computer and download it into the robot. That takes a lot of trial and error,” he said.

Fifth-grader Quinn Kallio said his favorite part of the process was building the attachments to the robot.

“We practice to do our challenges more efficiently and to get as many points as we can in 2 1/2 minutes,” he said.

When asked why he chose to join the team, Kallio said his grandfather was part of a robotics team, and “has a really good job and went to a really good college.”

“If a college looks back and sees you were on something like a robotics team, maybe that will open more opportunities,” he said.

If the team is chosen to move ahead from the state competition in December, it will next compete at the FLL World Class in April.