Justin Manhuart, 12, and Gavin LaDuke, 8, compete at UCS ThunderQuest Nov. 13 at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights. They are part of the Evil Croutons, a Lego robotics team from Ebeling Elementary School in Macomb Township. Manhuart said their robot did “great” in navigating the course.

Justin Manhuart, 12, and Gavin LaDuke, 8, compete at UCS ThunderQuest Nov. 13 at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights. They are part of the Evil Croutons, a Lego robotics team from Ebeling Elementary School in Macomb Township. Manhuart said their robot did “great” in navigating the course.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


UCS ThunderQuest robotics competition resumes after 1-year interruption

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published December 8, 2021

 Members of the team from Messmore Elementary School in Sterling Heights cheer on their teammates.

Members of the team from Messmore Elementary School in Sterling Heights cheer on their teammates.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA/STERLING HEIGHTS — Thirty-three regional Lego robotics teams returned to the annual UCS ThunderQuest — one of the state’s largest regional FIRST LEGO robotics competitions — Nov. 13 at Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights.

The tournament’s festive atmosphere involves team mascots, announcers, music and students in competition via Lego robotics.

FIRST Lego Robotics gives students ages 9-14 engineering challenges that they meet by building Lego robots to complete the challenges. The challenges cause the students to work together and learn coding, programming and engineering.

This was the 20th year of the UCS ThunderQuest and the first since 2019 due to COVID-19. There were two challenges based on age groups.

The FLL Challenge is a friendly competition for teams of students ages 9-12. The teams build a Lego robot to handle a mission. The FLL Explore is for teams of students ages 6-10 who learn about real-world problems and then create their solutions.

UCS ThunderQuest brought together 26 FLL Challenge teams and seven FLL Explore teams from throughout the region. Six FLL Challenge teams and three FLL Explore teams came from Utica Community Schools.

Duncan’s Mindstorm Masters, from Duncan Elementary School in Shelby Township, returned for the third year to compete at the ThunderQuest competition.

Mike Banks, head coach of Duncan’s Mindstorm Masters, said that last year during COVID, the team still found ways to compete virtually.

“The challenge last year was to get kids active in the pandemic times we all lived in. The kids won the Innovation Award for our treadmill that powered up a gaming system when it was in use,” he said via an email interview.

This year’s challenge asked how to get supply chain and logistics systems to move more efficiently.

“After talking with professionals in the field of delivery, the kids identified that a challenge for the delivery drivers was to locate the address and safe storage of packages. They developed a mailbox that lit up by the address (using) solar power and had a locked area where a delivery driver could place packages for the customer to retrieve later. Their presentation to the judges was very well received, with the judges commenting on the teamwork, fun, working concept of a mailbox and knowledge of their research,” he said.

The robot challenges this year focused on transferring and delivering packages to various locations on the competition board. The kids’ robot was able to complete nine of the 17 missions and scored 300 points in the final round. This resulted in a fourth place position for the robot section. The top score was 355 points.

“The Mindstorm Masters took third place in the Champion’s Award (overall best team), which is the culmination of the Innovation project, discussion with the judges and the robot scores. The ThunderQuest competition this year was well organized, and the team came prepared to present their best work. It was a lot of fun for the kids,” he said.

Emily Martin and Sarah Hurt, both fourth graders at Duncan Elementary, said that their favorite part of the competition was the fun they had presenting a skit in front of the judges. Aiden Banks, a sixth grader at Duncan, said he loved the adrenaline rush from competing with the robot in front of the crowd with the 2:30 time limit.

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