LEGO ROBOTS COMBAT

08/06/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By REBECCA PIRO Sun Staff

LOWELL Energy was high around Competition Table B, where a three-wheeled robot made of Legos waited for the clock to start.

The crowd cheered inside Costello Gym as the plastic machine, named HOPE, rolled slowly across the mat, first picking up a compact disc and then dragging a pair of glasses. Its first attempt to climb a miniature set of Lego stairs, however, fell apart when it popped a wheelie and flipped over backwards.

'Awww,' moaned the disappointed crowd.

It was all part of Saturday's Robotic Revolution, a tournament of middle-school teams that compete by trying to build a robot out of Legos that can perform the most tasks necessary to assist a disabled person.

The tournament, sponsored by the UMass Lowell's College of Engineering, drew 100 students from communities as close as Chelmsford and as far as Worcester.

It was based on the FIRST Robotics program, founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen in 1989.

'It isn't just designing gizmos,' John Ting, dean of engineering told the crowd of parents. 'It's about helping people to have a better life.'

The competition was a noisy event that ran from 2 to 7:30 p.m., with free pizza and soda to keep competitors and their cheering sections sharp. Teams had three chances to show off their robot's talents by performing as many tasks as possible within a two-minute time frame.

The tasks included pushing in a set of miniature Lego chairs around a Lego table; carrying a plastic bowl of 'food' to the table; and tossing balls into a net.

Minutes before game time Saturday, members of Chelmsford's team, called Cool Bots, still weren't sure how their robot was going to accomplish that last feat.

'We're trying to figure that out,' said Craig Robertson, 12, a McCarthy Middle School student.

Since September, team members congregated after school about twice a week to design and build the robot, said Captain Alexandra Davy, 13, a Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School student. Her father, who works in Chelmsford, coaches the team.

It seemed their hard work was paying off.

When showtime rolled around, the team's robot HOPE an acronym for Helping Others Participate Equally earned a near-perfect score.

'That was the best we've done!' Craig exclaimed, after the robot successfully climbed the set of stairs on its second try.

Rebecca Piro's e-mail address is rpiro@lowellsun.com