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Last updated: Sun. Dec. 15, 2013 - 02:36 am EDT

Robots battle Mother Nature

Simulate rescues when tsunamis, earthquakes strike

Click on image to view.

Champions Award: YETI, Granger

Champions Award,

second place: SpaceLab One Black, Kokomo

Robot Mechanical Design, second place: Thunderbirds, Huntington

Robot Programing, second place: Central Circuit Chargers, New Haven

In the Will Smith sci-fi movie, “I, Robot,” the machines plot to take over society.

That doesn’t scare 11-year-old Aaron Kreie of Fort Wayne.

“I’d just reprogram the robots,” the Arlington Elementary School student said. “I want to be an engineer when I grow up.”

Aaron is a member of J.A.B. Bots, one of 52 teams and among more than 400 students who participated in the FIRST Lego League Indiana Championship Tourney on Saturday at IPFW. The contest pit elementary and middle school pupils in a robotic contest. Since the summer, the students worked to develop their machines around the event’s theme, “Nature’s Fury.”

Vehicle robots had to tackle mock rescue exercises dealing with tsunamis and earthquakes and other natural disasters. The robots dodged power lines, routed ambulances, while engaging in human and animal rescues aboard large tabletop displays. The humans, of course, were Lego figures.

Uh, and so were the animals.

Besides teamwork, the top winners were judged on various categories, including mechanical design, programming, strategy and innovation, and performance. FIRST Lego League is a collaborative, international effort. The toy company and FIRST, a nonprofit organization, seek ways to fire up students about science, math, technology and engineering.

Winners of the Champions Award were YETI

from Granger.

But there’s more to the event than winning the top award with an opportunity to compete at Legoland in either California or Florida, said Carol Dostal, outreach coordinator for IPFW’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science – the coordinating body of the event.

“It’s about getting them excited about careers in this field,” she said, as dozens of teams worked around her, tweaking their gadgets just prior to competing. “We want them to learn about the engineering and design process. Equally important is learning teamwork.”

Evansville home-schooler Alek Dunkelberger is a member The Solar Brothers. The 13-year-old said he thrives in the creative environment.

“I like it a lot,” he said. “You have to be able to program your robot to do a bunch of things, like moving a tree without hitting a power line, taking someone’s pet to safety and stuff like that. It’s cool.”

Although J.A.B. was the only team from Fort Wayne competing, there was no pressure to represent the event’s host city. Besides, other northeast Indiana teams took part, like New Haven, Angola, Huntington and Warsaw.

“We were just were looking forward to it,” said Sean Baker, an adult leader of J.A.B., which takes its name from Fort Wayne schools Jefferson Middle, Arlington Elementary and Blackhawk Middle. “It’s a good experience because the kids learn something and have fun.”

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