Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Knocking Down the Pins and Dropping the Balls

Knocking Down the Pins and Dropping the Balls 
by Dr. Robert Meditz

We all know that the goal is to knock down the pins when bowling, but since when is dropping the balls a good thing?  Well, in Lego Robotics it is one of the best ways to lead the pack in ‘Robot Performance’.  Another way is to WOW them with an ‘Innovative Design’ to a problem the elderly have.  Then of course you can make a lasting impression on the judges in all areas so that you earn the ‘Judges’ Award’ or take home the third place ‘Champions’ Award’.  However, the most valuable awards are earned by all the teams, individuals, coaches, and parents – fun and fellowship with friends, learning new and challenging material and skills, and an enhanced sense of mastery and achievement in a competitive but cooperative environment.  It was disheartening not to see every team individually recognized for all their efforts and unique insights and solutions.  Although even that offered the opportunity to learn another life lesson – that the bar we set for ourselves is the most important one that we need to cross.  Only we can determine where we set it, how we prepare for it, our response to the result, and the future implications of either attaining our goal or not.   

Gear Masters - the seniors!
This year the theme was ‘Senior Solutions’, about the process of aging, the myriad ways aging affects people, and how to mitigate those effects.  Original research was performed in order to find new and unique means to help the elderly cope with aging more successfully.  The robotics portion included designing and programming a Lego Mindstorm robot to accomplish some of the daily tasks the elderly face.  Both the research and the robot were presented to a panel of judges who also evaluated the team members on teamwork and their incorporation of the core values the program aims to impart.     
Mindstorm Mechanics
It was déjà vu all over again this year for the Forest Hills Robotic League (FHRL), one of the few community sponsored groups represented among the 31 teams competing at the First Lego League Queens Tournament held on January 26, 2013 at the George Ryan Middle School.  The FHRL was the only group with 4 different teams competing, with 3 of the teams winning a combined total of 4 awards earning those 3 teams a trip to the NYC wide competition at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on March 9.  Amazingly, this was exactly the same scenario as last year.  Successful programs actually do breed success!
All 4 teams used technology that is readily available and well developed so that it would only have to be modified slightly for human use in their solutions.   

Robo Squad

Robo Squad developed a unique and affordable airbag system to prevent injuries from falls.  Their prototype aimed to avoid hip fractures, given the great morbidity and mortality associated with them.

Mindstorm Mechanics put forth an ingenious web based video conferencing system to both check on and direct the elderly in their daily activities.  From reminding them to take their pills to actually observing them for signs of illness or incapacity, a distant viewer could prevent problems from occurring or activate the emergency response system to intervene on life threatening problems.  

Planetary Forces
Planetary forces dealt with impaired mobility by designing an elegant motorized medicine cabinet.  Their ingenious design incorporated shelving changes and Velcro to maintain the integrity of the contents despite the movement.   
Gear Masters took a more behavioral approach by building upon the natural affinity and love of the elderly and their grandchildren for each other by teaming them up to exercise together when they can or to encourage each other to do the same.  It is mutually beneficial because regular exercise minimizes many of the adverse health effects of aging while also helping to avoid the burgeoning rise in childhood obesity and the predicted increase in the weight related health problems it can cause.   
It is a great pleasure to announce that the FHRL did extremely well again this year. Mindstorm Mechanics won the ‘Judges Award’ for strong scoring in all categories.Planetary Forces won the award for ‘Innovative Design’.  

Gear Masters
Gear Masters took a commanding lead early in ‘Robot Performance’ and held on to it throughout the entire competition.  In addition they won the Third Place Champion’s Award, for overall excellence.  The combined teamwork of the children, coaches, and parents helped achieved these amazing results.  However, even more important is that it showed the children that learning can indeed be fun and that the values that lead to a successful team here are applicable to all areas of life.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Running the Robots

By Dr. Robert W. Meditz

In Pamplona, Spain they run with the bulls, participants hoping to pass them by while avoiding their horns. Here in NYC the participants run the robots, hoping to score the fish while avoiding the bacteria. Not an easy task considering that these kids had to build a Lego robot, program it to do several different tasks, then change the attachments to get the right tool for the job, all in a run of less than 2.5 minutes.  That’s not all.  They had to discuss the technical aspects of their robot, research food safety in depth and come up with a unique solution to a specific problem, then present this material in a compelling and interesting way, all while functioning as a unified and cohesive team.  The kids started working on this in September, spending countless hours almost every Saturday afternoon, and even more time at home, building, researching, preparing, and having fun with friends, new and old. 

This year the Forest Hills Robotic League sponsored 2 teams for children from ages 6-9 in the Junior First Lego League and 5 teams for children from ages 9-14 in the First Lego League.  The FHRL had a total of 12 children in the JFLL and 34 children in the FLL.  These are the largest numbers of teams and children from any group by far, and one of the very few groups that is not affiliated with a school.  Pretty amazing for a 6 year old community based volunteer group!  But the amazing feats of the FHRL don’t end with its meteoric growth.
Both of our Junior teams presented their work at the NYC wide JFLL Expo at NYU Poly in February. Team Lego Monsters built a chocolate factory with a motion sensor triggered chocolate making machine.  Their enthusiasm won them the award for Team Spirit.
Team Club Builders developed wonderful gear driven cupcake machines. They won the Food Preparation Stars award for this revolutionary model.  This qualified both teams to present at the Jacob Javits Convention Center on March 18.  What amazing work from such a young group of kids! 

Among the over 30 teams at the Queens Qualifying Tournament at the George J. Ryan Middle School, MS 216, on January 28 were all 5 FHRL FLL teams.  Team Mindstorm Mechanics improved food safety education by designing a video game called “The Quest for the Golden Rice”; to progress in the game players have to correctly answer questions and shoot food contaminates. This free game can be found at KODU.com.

Team Robo Squad focused on making ground beef packaging safer.  Their four pronged solution includes using sharklet bacterial suppressant plastic wrap, replacing oxygen with carbon dioxide to minimize bacterial growth, nano technology super strong plastic to decrease breaks, and individual temperature and humidity sensors to detect improper storage conditions.

Team Grip researched how to keep ice cream cold, and thus safe, for transport to school until lunch by developing a portable ice cream freezer bento box chilled by a semi-conductor based thermal electric module.

Team Planetary Forces studied how to most safely handle meat. They found that it was best to handle meat as little as possible and that using hand sanitizer with gloves resulted in the least contamination., Food Fighters looked into the issue of making raw milk safer without pasteurization by developing an udder washer built using antimicrobial resins along with a UV LED sterilizing filter. 

You must be wondering how all this amazing work was received by the judges at the Queens Qualifying Tournament.  Really well, with the FHRL coming home with 4 awards!!!  Team Grip, our only all girl team, won the Judges Award.  Planetary Forces won First Place for Robot Performance.

Team Food Fighters won Second Place for Robot Performance and won First Place overall with the Champion’s Award! This was the highest award ever won by a FHRL team! These awards qualified these 3 teams to continue on to the city-wide competition at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
Over 80 teams qualified to compete in the FLL event at Javits.  The grueling day started at 8 and went well past 5.  The teams were judged for teamwork, research, technical skills, and robot performance.  In the spirit of “coopertition”, cooperation with each other while still competing against each other, each FHRL team loudly and visibly supported the other.  It was a sea of green at Javits, the FHRL color, and not just leftovers from St. Patrick’s Day, the day before. The green section of the bleachers was heard all the way back to Forest Hills when the first award of the day was announced - the Food Fighters won Third Place for Robot Performance!  

Food Fighters, winners of the Champions Award at the FLL Queens Qualifying Tournament

Front row: E.N, E.N, Joseph Patti, Kevin Walter, Gabriel Treitmeier-McCarthy, Zachary Smith, Max Treitmeier Meditz, Caleb Yoshida
Back row: David Smith, Coach K.N., Kyle Ni, Monica Treitmeier-McCarthy, Caroline Walter
The whole process, building the robot, programming it, doing the research, writing the presentation, and performing the skit, was an amazing experience for all FHRL teams,  The children learned many new technical and scientific skills, valuable life lessons on teamwork, cooperation, and competition, all while having fun with friends. The entire experience was an overwhelming win for everyone involved in the FHRL!

For more information on the FHRL please see our website at www.ForestHillsLego.com.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Artificial Intelligence?

Robert W. Meditz

Nothing artificial here! This is pure unadulterated grey matter firing non-stop, connecting via white matter in unique ways. Young brain power harnessed collectively to solve medical problems in imaginative new ways, while having fun with friends at the same time. All this through, believe it or not, Lego blocks and programmable robots along with the dedication of the Forest Hills Robotics League (FHRL) coaches and parents encouraging and guiding the kids under the auspices of the International FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League. The theme this year was Body Forward, about exploring the world of biomedical engineering to improve our lives.

Months of hard work, masked as play, were required to build and program the Lego robots, research the topics of interest, and create an imaginative and entertaining presentation. The teams heard discussions by a dietician, Emergency Medical Technician, bio-engineer, and several physicians discussing cardiology, neurology, and oncology. A lovely pot-luck dinner was held before the holidays, allowing the children, coaches, and parents time to really get acquainted before the final push preparing for the Queens qualifying round of the FIRST Lego League competition.

Over thirty teams competed at the Queens qualifying round held at Aviation High School in January.  The FHRL was the only community based group represented, all the others were sponsored by schools. The FHRL also had 4 teams competing, the most of any sponsoring organization. Even more impressive was that 3 of the 4 FHRL teams won awards and thus qualified for the NYC wide event held on March 13 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center.  There they competed against nearly ninety other qualifying round winning teams from all across the 5 boroughs at this free event which was open to the public.  What is absolutely sensational is that two of the three FHRL teams along with both FHRL junior teams entered in the city wide competition won awards!!!  This was a truly impressive showing for the all volunteer, unaffiliated, and non-profit FHRL!

The city wide event also included a competition for children in Kindergarten through second grade, the Junior First Lego League.  Both of the FHRL’s junior teams were represented, included among them one of our younger Pack 349 Cub Scouts - Owen Tan, and both teams won awards!  The Club Builders won for Best Team Spirit and Lego Monsters won the Technology Award.

The Planetary Forces team members of the FHRL are also all Cub Scouts, one from Pack 96, the others all from our very own Pack 349. Their research project was to use nanobots, tiny robots, to cut away and remove atherosclerotic plaque from the coronary arteries and then replace the damaged endothelium. Their presentation focused on the need to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease through proper diet and exercise. Their robot won second place for Performance in Queens and fourth at Javits for their Research Presentation.  Congratulations to John Lewandowski, Max Treitmeier Meditz, E.N., Gabriel Treitmeier-McCarthy, Ethan Tsou, Kevin Walter, Gabriel Yengle, and Caleb Yoshida.

Mindstorm Mechanics studied the use of echolocation to allow the blind to ambulate safely. They won first prize in the Research segment of the competition in Queens and fourth in Robot Design at Javits.  Team Robo Squad worked on solving the problem of neuronal conduction in multiple sclerosis, and won fourth place for Robot Performance in Queens. The fourth team, IBots, researched the use of nanopatches to deliver therapy to help cure cancer.

The FHRL was founded in 2006 by Iffat Mai, an alumnus of MIT. The other coaches who devote countless hours of their time to the children include: Lisa Brody, Howard Lee, John Lewandowski, C. Ngai, K.Ngai, Jane Tsou, and Stella Wang.  At present there are 41 children between the ages of 9 and 14 in the FHRL and 11 children between the ages of 5 and 8 in the FH Junior League.  More information about the FHRL and Junior League can be found on their website at www.foresthillslego.com.

Many, many thanks to the organizers, coaches, and volunteers for opening new vistas to our youth, making science, technology, and learning exciting and rewarding, building camaraderie and a team ethos, all the while making the entire experience fun.