The Delphi Digital Dragons, our LEGO Robotics Team, is led by Dr. Giacomo Vacca. In the Fall 2009 season, the team built their robotics table and studied the application of robotics to Transportation (this year’s theme). To prepare for the competition, they attended talks from leaders in the transportation industry and hosted Mr. Patrick McGarry - who headed the Boston Big Dig project - to speak to students at Delphi. The Digital Dragons met each weekend, testing a variety of solutions to the various problems presented to their robots, and learned a great deal in the process. Here’s what their advisor had to say about the experience:
“Last August I was fortunate enough to hear Dean Kamen speak at a conference about his FIRST initiative. Dean Kamen is a world-renowned inventor, most famous for the Segway, but actually most of his inventions are in the medical field... Well, in 1991 he started an annual robotics competition for high-school students, and built an organization to support it called FIRST -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. 18 years later, the competition has grown to thousands of schools worldwide, and hundreds of thousands between students and volunteers. Some years ago a parallel robot competition was introduced for elementary and middle school students: FLL, or FIRST Lego League. In this age group, the robot is designed using a module developed in partnership between Lego and National Instruments.
"I was so inspired by Dean Kamen's enthusiasm and drive to get kids excited about science and technology that I decided on the spot to become a coach for the FLL competition at my son's school, Delphi Academy in Santa clara. So, in September we got our competition kits and started building the competition set and the robot. The team -- five kids ranging from 8 to 12 -- worked hard, every weekend (eventually twice every weekend), testing different designs and strategies for completing the competition's many 'missions'.
"There were huge challenges -- these kids had very different levels of understanding and familiarity with mechanical concepts, and the learning curve was incredibly steep. There was not much time -- the local tournament happened at the end of November, and it involved 12 teams. I was afraid we were not going to score any points at all! In the end, we did a respectable showing, and the robot managed to complete a handful of missions successfully -- even though we did not quality for the next-level tournament. The kids learned a lot in a very short season, and we're primed for trying out different robot designs until the next season -- when we plan to make it to the next round!"
Giacomo Vacca, PhD