Using Robots to Create Senior Solutions

Junior Innovation Lab students took the field (in the form of a Lego-strewn table) on December 1 in a practice tournament for the FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics competition. The team of six fifth graders (Quentin Bazar, Tycho Burwell, Laina Lomont, Ian Morgan, Orly Narizzano, and Jaden Schapiro, mentored by teachers Elaine Parshall and Kim Borsack) has been working since the beginning of the school year to build small robots using Lego Mindstorms kits, which comprise a programmable computer, modular sensors and motors, and Lego bricks, to carry out assigned “missions.”

The theme of this year’s FLL is assistive technology for an aging population, and the robotic missions include such tasks as using a service animal to retrieve a phone, flipping switches, moving furniture, and piecing together a quilt. Students had to program their robot to perform these tasks with Lego representations of the items, and then strategize which tasks would earn the most points within their two-minute time limit.

Thirty-eight teams from across Long Island attended the four-round practice tournament. Teams put their robots through the paces in each round and were then ranked by their highest-scoring rounds. Even more valuable than the experience of performing under pressure was the feedback given to teams by the judges of the event.

Ross earned the 9th highest score of the match, placing 13th out of 38 due to multiple ties. The results were especially gratifying to the team given that they are all at the younger end of the age group (the league is for students ages 9–14), and this is the first year Ross School has participated in the program. The high point of the day was when the team’s robot successfully climbed a set of stairs to balance on a platform. There were high fives all around, as the Junior Innovation Lab was the first team to complete this tricky maneuver.

The team will continue to refine their robotic programs and strategies in preparation for the qualifying competition at the end of January.

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