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.

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