Robotics competition to take place at WKU

Mitchell Grogg

Kentucky students are using plastic bricks as building blocks in their education to learn more about daily challenges for senior citizens.

Students are set to compete in the Kentucky FIRST LEGO League State Robotics competition at 9 a.m. on Feb. 2 at Diddle Arena.

John Inman, science outreach coordinator of Ogden College of Science and Engineering, said the contest is expected to consist of 42 teams who qualified for the competition, out of a total of about 150 in the state.

“It’s just kind of an all-around, interesting, neat way for kids to learn and enjoy math and science,” he said.

The students’ robots — and the tasks they will need to perform — are built around the theme “Senior Solutions,” tackling issues the elderly face on a daily basis, including keeping themselves fit and getting around the house, Inman said.

The students, ages 8 to 14, must program their robots, made completely out of LEGO parts, to perform tasks such as picking up and moving items on a game board. Inman said the robots must complete all the tasks, using programming done by the students, in two and a half minutes.

But the robots are only one part of the four-part competition. The students also give a presentation and demonstration of the robot’s design, present a research project based on the Senior Solutions theme and do a teamwork activity observed by the judges — to give the judges a firsthand look at how the students work in their teams.

The competition hopes to instill a set of core values, including teamwork, friendly competition, a fun sharing of experiences and “gracious professionalism,” according to the national competition’s website.

Those core values were on display last year for those who volunteered with the event. Biology graduate student Gillian Jones especially remembered the fun of the competition.

“The funniest thing was actually seeing how enthusiastic the kids were about it,” Jones said.

She was also surprised to see the plastic bricks used in this way.

“All I’d ever seen with LEGOs was building buildings — and never robotics,” she said.“It was really neat to see students actually be able to program their own robotic things to play with LEGOs.”

Jody Owen, who is in the science and math education program for SkyTeach, and served as a judge in a recent competition, was impressed with the level of dedication that came from the students.

“You could tell how into it they were,” he said.