Press-Republican

December 1, 2012

Local robotics teams to compete at Clarkson

By JEFF MEYERS
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH – Some of the area’s future experts in the field of technology will be putting their skills to the test in Potsdam today.

Nearly a dozen youngsters ages 9 to 14 are participating in the annual First Lego League Robotics Challenge at Clarkson University. This is the first year that teams representing the greater Plattsburgh area will compete in the regional event.

“The theme this year is senior citizens, identifying ways to help seniors stay active in their lives,” said Dave Collins, a special-education instructor for Northeastern Clinton Central School, who is co-coach for the local robotics teams with his son, Justin Collins.

CAREER PRACTICE

The First Lego League is a national program that combines robotics, computer programming and engineering by using Lego building blocks to construct robots and to program them to successfully complete tasks.

“We’ll have two teams: one with six kids and the other with five,” Mr. Collins said. “We can have a maximum of 10 kids per team, but we thought it would be better to split them into two smaller groups.”

“This gives them valuable practice in using technology,” said Justin, who is studying physics and engineering as a freshman at Plattsburgh State. “That’s where the future jobs are.”

SENIOR CHALLENGES

During the competition, teams will send their robots through an obstacle course of sorts, programming them to complete tasks related to activities that would be of interest to senior citizens.

For instance, one challenge will require the robot to turn on a video device that seniors might use to stay in contact with their loved ones. If successful, a flag will rise above the device.

Another obstacle will mimic a senior’s need to retain balance to stay active. The robot will travel up a ramp and successfully navigate across a balance beam without losing its traction.

The challenges will also represent fun activities for seniors, including one obstacle where the robot will try its skill — or that of the team programming it — with a round of bowling.

“Each team has three opportunities to get as many points as possible,” Justin said, noting that 16 teams from across northeastern New York will compete.

“Our team members definitely like the challenge. They’ve been having fun, and I think they will be competitive.”

LEARNING THROUGH FUN

Jake Glicksman, a fifth-grader at Seton Catholic, participated in a local First Lego competition over the summer and decided to join the regional contest because of the fun he had during his first experience.

“I like working with the team, learning from our trials and failures,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about how to build robots and how to work as a team to program them.”

Tiffany Schubert, a seventh-grader at Peru, also participated in the summer camp and believes the added experience has helped her improve her engineering skills.

“It’s fun to have the whole team working together,” she said. “When you can get the robot to perform what you programmed it to do, it really shows some awesome teamwork.”

Each local team hopes to do well in the competition, and both are looking to bring home the Lego Challenge trophy as representatives of their communities.

Email Jeff Meyers: jmeyers@pressrepublican.com