ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, NS - Some Annapolis Royal students are in Detroit this week where they will compete at a world robotics event after winning a provincial competition at Acadia earlier this year.
The First Lego League team, the Royal Robots from Annapolis West Education Centre, packed their bags and a suitcase full of Lego for competition on April 24 in the Motor City.
But the First Lego League students aren’t the only AWEC youngsters heading to Detroit. Coach Jeff Hafting also has a senior team going to Detroit May 16 for three competitions.
“We’ve got two robotics teams at AWEC – a junior team and a senior team,” said Hafting. “They both won provincials this year at Acadia. That’s the first time a school has won both the junior and the senior. With that they have the opportunity to compete at two different world festival competitions. So the young team is going to Detroit the 24th of April I think it is, and they’ll be down there for three days of competition. And then on May 16 the older kids go to Detroit to a different venue, a different competition.”
In fact the senior Royal Robots will take part in three different competitions.
They’re doing a Sumo competition, because they won that at Acadia as well. That involves pushing the competing robot off the table.
“They’re doing an Unknown Mission challenge,” said Hafting. “So they show up with a robot kit – it’s completely unassembled – and they’re given a challenge. They have no idea what it’s going to be. They have to build it and program it within four hours.”
The third event is called the Game Competition.
“That one is where they have to collect tennis balls off the table and deposit them in a box that is in a random place,” said Hafting. “So the robot has to be completely autonomous and find it (the box) on the table and deposit the balls. It’s a matter of picking the balls up, putting them up high, finding the box, and dropping them in.”
Students use a tiny programmable computer called Lego Mindstorms, a hardware software platform designed specifically for building robots based on the Lego building blocks.
The PC-based programming is drag-and-drop and involves linking icons together. While it’s basic programming, Hafting said it can become pretty complex.
“It’s as basic or as complicated as you want to make it. It can become very complex,” he said. “The older team, because they’ve had so many years doing this now, I have no idea what their programs even mean. I’m reading these things and they’re built in with loops and switch blocks and all these sorts of things -- and they’re fantastic the way the logic works.”
Hafting said it trains your brain to be logical so that when the students get to high school, when they get to the computer programming courses, they understand it. “They understand how it works, even though they may not know that language,” he said.
The little computer becomes part of the robot, and with motors, wheels, moveable arms, and the building blocks turns into an automaton capable of performing pre-programmed tasks.
The young team is part of what is called called First Lego League.
“And First Lego League emphasizes team work,” said Hafting who co-coaches the junior team with Paula Hafting. “So there are three aspects to that. There’s team work, there’s the project they do (they have to do a research project and put a presentation together and go out in the community and present it to people in the community), and then there’s the robot part of it. So the robot part of First Lego League is one-third of what they’re judged on.”
Jeff Hafting said First Lego League sets the juniors up well for when they later enter the senior competition called Robofest.
“If they can work together as a team, then all those skills they learned they can use them together to accomplish goals,” he said. “So when they’re young they learn the soft skills – team work, how to get along with somebody, how to delegate responsibility in a project setting. It becomes much more technical as they move on.”
On April 14 members of both team gathered at the Guardian Pharmacy in Annapolis Royal where owners Danny and Krista McClair put up $1,000 so the students could do a 50/50 and have a large jackpot right from the start.
“We’ve been selling tickets through the pharmacy and at some of our fundraising events,” said Jeff Hafting, noting that about 600 tickets were sold at $2 each for a final jackpot of $2,312. Premier Stephen McNeil dropped by to draw the winning ticket that saw a local woman walk away with $1,156.
“He was there when we won our very first competition in 2013 and has been a big supporter ever since then,” said Jeff Hafting about McNeil. “He pulled our very first raffle ticket in 2014 when that team travelled to Toronto and did a similar type of raffle. He’s come back and done that again for us which is great.”