When Sam Lane heard about a competitive Lego team this fall, he figured “Why not?”
The 12-year-old Central Cambria student had plenty of experience building with the popular, multicolored blocks.
But Lane quickly learned he was stepping into a whole different Lego land.
“Legos, I knew. But not the robot-building part,” he said, smiling.
But that’s just what Lane and dozens of students from across parts of central and southwestern Pennsylvania were working with Sunday at the region’s first Lego League Championship.
One of many state championship competitions held this month, the St. Francis University-held event put teams of students ages 9 to 14 in front of a 4 foot by 8 foot playing field. There, sensor-driven robots they built rumbled through courses, knocking down pins and moving objects.
There were no remote controls – just Lego robots each team worked weeks to build, preprogram and fine-tune for the event.
“Some of it was definitely hard,” Lane said.
“But it was a lot of fun,” added Bobby Antesberger, one of 10 students on Johnstown Christian School’s Robo Jays squad.
Organizers said they hoped the kids enjoyed the competition – but noted that was only part of their goal.
It could also inspire them to become the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators, St. Francis Science Outreach Center’s Allison Felix noted.
“The idea is to get these kids into the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math,” Felix said.
The Outreach Center, with help from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and Lift Johnstown, worked to jump-start local interest in Lego League competition after noticing there was a void in the central part of the state.
“For most of these teams, this is their first year competing,” Felix said. “It’s been amazing to see how hard they are working.”
Local schools in Sunday’s event included teams from Windber, Conemaugh Township, Conemaugh Valley, Johns-
town Christian School and Central Cambria. Eleven teams squared off.
Most teams quickly learned their robots performed differently under the state championship lights.
“If everything works perfect, the robot should go down the table, lift a weight and head back home,” said Conemaugh Valley team coach Kenneth Robinson. “But when you’re working with light and bump sensors, there’s a lot of variables. The surface. The lights.”
“Senior Solutions” was this year’s theme. And Felix said one task had teams working to create technology-driven solutions to help older residents perform tasks that might be difficult or impossible otherwise without robotics.
“There are teams across the nation that are getting patents for the innovations they create,” she said.
“We’re just happy these local kids and coaches took a leap of faith and gave this a try this year,” Felix added. “Hopefully it grows.”
This year’s winners will now compete in St. Louis, the site of the 2012 world championships.
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