By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE 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 one team from St. Lucie County, the TIG Bots, and 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. The top three teams will advance to a regional competition.
At the December tournament, the TIG Bots, a first-year 4-H group from St. Lucie County known as the Treasure Coast Robotics, were there along with Coach Dave Becker, who was happy to have his team be part of the competition.
"This is their first time competing, and they've worked really hard," Coach Becker said. "I'm proud of them for being here today, and I hope they have fun."
The members who attended the competition were Junior Millang, Cy Wilkes, Billy Krebs and Rave Wall.
The tournament, now in its eighth year, has a different theme each year. This year, the theme was "senior solutions," in which individual teams explored the topic of aging and had to create something that would make an older person's life easier.
The T.I.G. Bots created a vertical carousel for a pantry that would allow a senior to scan food using a bar-code reader, and then place the food on a shelf. Later, the senior could locate the food item by speaking into a voice-recognition device, which would then move the pantry shelves up or down to place the requested items within reach for the senior. This would eliminate the senior having to bend down or step up onto something to locate the item.
The team interviewed seniors about their needs, visited an assisted living facility to meet with seniors and briefly explained their project to the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners at a recent meeting.
"It's fun to compete here and see the other team's projects," said team member Junior Millang. "I didn't know there were so many kids that liked doing this as much as us."
Other teams' projects included the creation of a tracking device that would alert medical personnel in case of a fall, as well as include scannable personal information. Another team created 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 competition 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 it 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. The "FIRST" in its name stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology."
"We represent all four high schools in Martin County: Martin County High School, South Fork High School, Clark Advanced Learning Center and Jensen Beach High School," said Stacy Jones, tournament director. "We all worked together as a team, and it's a lot of fun."
Though the top three winners 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.