Robotics competition takes place at WKU

Mitchell Grogg

Kentucky students came to the WKU campus Saturday to apply mathematic and scientific skills in a robotics competition focused on helping the elderly. The university played host to the Kentucky FIRST LEGO League State Robotics Championship.

Event Manager John Inman said the competition is like a sporting event.

“These kids, lots of them don’t play any sports, then come out here with their posters, signs, chants,” he said.

The students, aged 8 to 14, programmed and built robots out of LEGO materials to perform tasks on a game board — tasks intended to mirror what senior citizens do in their daily lives, such as exercise, quilting, cooking and gardening.

A total of 14 tasks were available on the game board, with varying amounts of points available for each. The robots had two and a half minutes to perform as many tasks as possible. The students had three opportunities to test out their machines on the official game boards.

Coach Fred Strange, of Grant’s Lick Elementary in Campbell County, saw this contest as a fun educational opportunity.

“It’s a great way to introduce them to science and technology and get them excited about being engineers and scientists,” he said.

The game board’s design mirroring challenges the elderly face was a part of this year’s theme for the event: Senior Solutions. The students also prepared and presented projects aimed at helping the elderly.

This year’s theme was especially relevant to Buni, India graduate student, and volunteer, Urmila Tokekar. She works in WKU’s Center for Aging and is working on her master’s degree in health care administration. The Baby Boom generation, she said, will be of particular concern in the future.

“We need to come up with some solutions as they’re living longer,” she said. “That’s a good thing, but we have to come up with some solutions so that they….will overcome problems.”

Working beyond the game board was another part of this contest. Each team chose a “senior partner” and examined the challenges that particular senior citizen faced.

The students were encouraged to “choose one problem that your senior partner identified and learn about it,” according to the competition’s program.

Grant’s Lick’s project aimed to alleviate loneliness among seniors. The team found the problem happened due to senior citizens’ friends and relatives aging themselves and dying.

“They discovered that their loneliness was the key to deterioration of people’s health,” Strange said.

The students’ project involved hand-making and delivering greeting cards to residents at a local nursing home, in addition to the robot-building.

“We put all this stuff together,” said Grant’s Lick fourth-grader Michael Leicht. “We all have fun together, and we learn core values.”

Those core values from the FIRST LEGO League include teamwork, friendly competition, sharing of experiences and gracious professionalism.

The team that wins the competition’s Overall Championship Award also has the opportunity to compete at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in St.Louis. This year’s winner was the home school team “Automaticus Rex.”

Grant’s Lick’s team, “The Super Senior League,” took home first place in the contest’s robot strategy category.

Inman said the World Festival is a good chance for the young students to communicate with other kids — even if they do not appear to speak the same language.

“They see kids from all over the world,” he said. “They’re speaking different languages, but they’re all speaking the same LEGO language.”