By Dawn Krebs
MARTIN COUNTY -- Children of all ages know how fun it is to build with LEGO blocks.
But on Dec. 8, hundreds of students from all grade levels came together to show how much fun it was to build robots with them.
The Speed, Power and Maneuverability Robotics LEGO Tournament, held at South Fork High School in Stuart, showcased 12 student teams from the East Coast of Florida. The Treasure Coast was represented at the tournament, with four teams from Martin County: S.T.A.R. Bots, Science, Math, Art Research and Technology Lab N.W., SMART Lab S.E. and the Blacktrons, as well as one team from St. Lucie County, the TIG Bots. The top three teams advanced to the regional competition.
At the December tournament, the SMART Lab N.W. and S.E. teams were competing for the first time.
The two groups had one coach, Jollyn Nolan. The N.W. team was made up of students from Jensen Beach Elementary and Warfield Elementary in Indiantown, while the S.E. team was made up of students from Port Salerno Elementary and Pinewood Elementary.
The S.T.A.R. Bots, which have been competing for 10 years, is made up of students from Sonshine Christian Academy in Martin County. The team's coach is Jennifer Woods.
The Blacktrons are in their second year of competition, and the team, based in Palm City, is made up of homeschooled students. The team's coach is Katie Caroll.
The tournament, now in its eighth year, has a different theme every year. This year, the theme was "senior solutions," where individual teams explored aging and had to create something that would make an older person's life easier.
For example, the S.T.A.R. Bots created a bracelet that held a tracking device. The device can hold personal and medical information, monitor a person's vital signs and has a shock sensor to alert medical personnel in case of a fall. There is even an application that would alert the senior as to what type of medication to take and when.
Other teams' projects included creating a vertical shelf that moved to items within a senior's reach using voice commands and a stove timer that turns off a hot stove and sets off an alarm if no motion is detected around the stove for eight minutes.
But the day involved more than just the senior projects. The teams were also required to build robots out of LEGOs and put them on a predesigned course to see how many tasks they could complete in two minutes.
The teams also had to demonstrate teamwork and show technical knowledge of both their robots and their senior projects.
The event was hosted by the S.P.A.M. FIRST Robotics Competition Team No. 180, which is the South Fork High School Robotics team that won the 2012 FRC world championship in April. The team has been competing for 15 years. "FIRST" is an acronym for inspiration and recognition of science and technology.
"We all worked together as a team, and it's a lot of fun," said Stacy Jones, tournament director.
At the end of the day, SMART Lab N.W. took home the judge's award. Though the top three teams that advanced to the regional competition did not come from the Treasure Coast, there will be two more competitions in the future to give the area teams a chance to qualify.