Building Robots at School

September 16, 2008

FIRST Lego League: Where to pay? Where to Play?

Filed under: FLL,Robotics Competitions — dtengineering @ 1:48 pm

FIRST Lego League is probably THE largest robotics competition in the world.  Although it is limited to students in the 9-14 age range, it is certainly the largest robotics competition here in BC, both in terms of the numbers of teams and the number of people involved.  A large part of this success is due to the hard work of the BC Original Minds Association which organizes the FLL program in BC.  Their FLL web site has the most up to date information on what is going on in BC with regards to FLL.  The “Resources” page is particularly useful.  Although I didn’t see information on the whens and wheres of this year’s tournaments, there are typically three qualifying tournaments in BC, including one on Vancouver Island, as well as a provincial championship held in January in the lower mainland.

Each year FLL introduces a new challenge, based around a positive, scientific, theme.  This year’s theme is “Climate Connections”.  More information on the challenge is available from the FIRST website.

Details on costs are listed here, and the registration page is here.  Typically a team will pay a $200USD registration fee, and buy the “field set-up kit” of lego parts and a 4’x8′ game mat for $65 USD (you get at least $65 worth of Lego in this kit, which you are free to use however you want in future years).  This way all teams will be able to replicate the official playing surface in their own lab, shop, or living room.  It takes quite a while to build all the various field elements and set up the playing field, however this is essential for practicing and refining the robot’s autonomous routines.  To see the “missions” and game mat, look here.  If two or more teams are sharing a space, for instance when we ran two teams out of my animation lab here at school, it is possible to only order one field set-up kit and for the teams to share it.  Finally teams will need access to either the Lego Mindstorms NXT, or the older RCX, robotics kit, including CPU, motors and sensors.  While it is often possible to find the old RCX bricks sitting around unused in the educational system, there is a nicely subsidized kit including the NXT system with essentially all the parts required to build a basic FLL robot available for $365 USD when you register a team.  This kit can be re-used from year to year.  For more sophisticated robots, additional Lego parts can be added, as specified in the rules.  Canadian teams will find their parts supplied through Spectrum Scientific.  This avoids some of the brokerage charges that come when ordering direct from the USA, but can result in orders taking a little longer to arrive.

It is important to understand that the robots are only part of the overall competition.  Preparing reports related to the theme, developing pit area displays, and demonstrating teamwork and enthusiasm are all important parts of the competition. This why it is possible to have up to ten students on one FLL team.  Personally, I think four kids per team is about right, and probably wouldn’t recommend going above six at the most.  The FLL Coach’s Handbook has good information on all aspects of building an FLL team. (For some reason that link wasn’t working when Ic checked, but it might just be our balky school connection.)  Once you get looking around you will find that there are many, many resources available from programming to mentoring to just building good Lego structures.  Maybe you will post some of the ones you find most useful here as a comment?

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