BAR HARBOR, Maine — According to judges at a recent international Lego robotics competition, a group of local middle schoolers deserved a hand.
In fact, the team from Conners Emerson school in Bar Harbor last week brought home two — one of them a prize for First Place.
The team, which calls itself “Oh Boy … These Pickles are Natural Disasters,” returned from the First Lego League World Festival in St. Louis with two festival trophies, which are yellow life-sized hands made out of Lego pieces. Competing against roughly 80 other teams, they won Third Place in Robot Performance and First Place in Robot Design: Strategy & Innovation.
“We screamed and ran,” Branden Dagenais, an eighth-grader on the team, said about the team’s reaction to winning the First Place award.
“When there are 80 teams from around the world and you’re the one who has thought of the most new things and thought of the best strategy, you know, you’re pretty proud of that,” added fellow eighth-grader Robbie Denegre.
Dagenais and Denegre were two of five middle schoolers on the Bar Harbor team, including Lucas Ingebritson, Anna Naggert and Thomas Korstanje, who were interviewed last week about their win. The team also includes Conners-Emerson pupils Nathan Ingebritson, Takanao Ishimura and Yash Nair.
At the center of the competition was a table-top challenge that all of the teams at the event had to tackle. A robot of Lego parts had to be built and programmed by the teams to move itself around a table layout that was the same for every team. Team members could not touch or remotely control their robot while it traveled around the table.
Each team’s robot had to accomplish a series of tasks on the table within a total time limit of two and a half minutes. As the wheeled robot built by the Bar Harbor pupils — which is roughly the size of a shoebox — accomplished each task, it would return to a corner of the table, where the students would fit it with a different Lego-exoskeleton attachment that would enable it to accomplish the next task on the list.
The robot would navigate around the table using light sensors that would detect different colored lines on the table’s surface. Tasks for this year’s challenge, which was designed to simulate response efforts to a natural disaster, included releasing a plane down a zipline, raising a small house off the table surface, turning a geared wheel, picking up a series of upright plastic loops and moving a motorcycle, truck and ambulance to other parts of the table, among other things.
The Conners Emerson pupils said they spent months practicing for hours after school. They built four robots, continuously practicing with and adjusting each one to determine which would perform the best. They went to the Maine statewide competition in Augusta in December and won the Grand Champion Award, punching their ticket for the world tournament in St. Louis.
There, they competed against several other U.S. teams but also against middle schoolers from places as far away as Saudi Arabia, Peru, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia and Hong Kong. They had the third-fastest time in the table top competition, finishing behind teams from Germany and Taiwan.
When it came to design elements of their robot, such as the use of rubber bands, and the idea of outfitting the robot with different attachments for different tasks, the judges liked theirs the best. The judges also were impressed with how the Bar Harbor team, and in particular eighth-grader Yash Nair, programmed its robots, they said.
The budding scientists said that it is a good feeling to have learned that all their hard work during the school year paid off.
“It’s challenging but rewarding,” said Korstanje, a sixth-grader.
“Practicing for hundreds of hours throughout the year, it’s really nice to see your name up there before [so many] other teams and knowing you worked for it,” Denegre said. “It wasn’t lucky that we got it.”