Bury Grammar School takes on robot challenge

Boys from Bury Grammar School Image copyright Other
Image caption As part of the competitions children had to give a scientific presentation - important to look the part!

On 28 January this year, 24 teams and more than 300 people converged at the University of Loughborough for the UK finals of the First Lego League (otherwise referred to as 'FLL') competition.

All of them were hoping it would be a happy and memorable day. The teams invited to participate had previously proven their mettle by emerging from their local preliminaries as the best team.

The process begins each year in September, from the start of the new school year.

The competition has four main elements to it, through which FLL gives boys and girls under the age of 16 the opportunity to build and programme a Lego robot to manoeuvre and solve tricky challenges.

They must also concoct an innovative solution to tackle a mind-boggling scientific problem and work as a team.

The Robot Table

Image copyright Other
Image caption Much of the action takes place on the robot tables

The Robot Table is where the accuracy and reliability of the robot is tested and where the challenges are attempted.

To begin with, each team has three runs - with the best score from these determining which eight teams qualify for the quarter-finals.

After the quarter-finals and semi-finals, the last two teams face each other twice, and their scores are added up to decide the winner of the Robot Table.

Judges look at the technical aspect of the robot. This has nothing to do with reliability or the amount of points scored - it simply looks at the ingenuity behind the responses to the challenges.

This is done through looking at two elements: the programming and the building.

Banana fuel?

Image copyright bbc
Image caption "Could bananas be used as fuel?" asked one team

FLL tries to get children involved in looking at scientific problems facing society today and how they can be averted or answered.

The theme of this year was "Food Factor", and the aim was to look at how food spoiling can be stopped on specific food items.

People's answers ranged from coating raspberries in chocolate to harnessing the hydrocarbon that bananas emit naturally to make transport self-sustainable.

The solution could be presented in any format preferred by the team, including PowerPoint presentations and acting out plays. Points were even awarded for the imagination behind the delivery.

Something that FLL encourages religiously is that taking part, working together, cooperating with others and having fun is more important than winning.

They have, therefore, assigned a prize to be given to the team which displays the most sportsmanship and best relations within itself. Judges stay in the pits all day long, keeping their ears tuned for any real acts of generosity, or the very opposite!

Any teams which win the separate national awards move on to the international finals. The champion award means that they can go to California in America for the worldwide finals, while other prizes give the receiving teams the opportunity to go to Berlin for a week to compete there.

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Image caption The winning team gets to go to California

Technical difficulties

As for us, the Bury Grammar School Boys team, we had a fun and interesting day.

To begin with, the robot did not perform at the Robot Table as we had hoped, and we were placed only 14th out of the 24 teams.

However, instilled with a sense of determination, we persevered and modified the robot to cope with the different conditions on the Competition Table.

Our efforts paid off, as we finished third by the end of the preliminaries and qualified for the quarter-finals.

Unfortunately, we experienced some unexpected technical difficulties (it was working perfectly up to this point, after the modifications) which meant our robot did not accomplish our best score possible. Failing to get to the semi-finals, we ended up in sixth place overall.

Judges for the Technical and Scientific presentations also commended us on the maturity of our responses and our thorough thought.

Regardless of the length of the journey, every aspect of the competition is supposed to be fun and it pleases me to say that this year was no exception.

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