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Student-designed Lego robots battle in Fab Lab competition

The inaugural Lego RoboRumble competition pits students’ robotic Lego creations against one another for awards, prizes and learning.

The RoboRumble program teaches students how to build robots from Legos, leading up to a competition pitting the different teams' robots against one another.
The RoboRumble program teaches students how to build robots from Legos, leading up to a competition pitting the different teams' robots against one another.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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Terry Shen, a junior at Pine View School, has been interested in robotics ever since participating in First Lego League in middle school and his freshman year of high school.

That is why he was excited for Faulhaber Fab Lab's inaugural Lego RoboRumble competition, for which he was assigned to the senior committee and given the role of master of ceremonies.

“When people think of Lego, they might think of an instruction sheet telling them how to build the project that comes along with a box, but something that's amazing about our program here is that these robots are created completely by the students' imaginations,” Shen said.

The design of the robots can follow a format of students' choosing, with no requirements for aspects like the number or size of wheels, or where to place the sensors.

Involving 45 students, including homeschool students, the new program this year has represented 17 schools across Sarasota and Manatee counties through 12 elementary school teams, with awards and prizes offered to students for their dueling. 

The effort has been led by Robotics Director April Pan and 16 high school students, including Shen, representing seven high schools.

They have constructed the arena where the competition was held Dec. 17.

Pan believes the competition is the first of its type in the Sarasota area.

“We are so excited to have our own Lego Robo Rumble competition here,” she said. “We hope to promote this next year into a bigger event, so more kids will come here to learn about robotics.”

The program is just part of Fab Lab’s mission of exposing youth to technical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills to inspire their interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and math fields.

The ins and outs of robotics

The construction of the robots took place across six weeks, with a three-hour class during each, beginning with the topic of “What is a robot?” and moving onto the hub that controls all of a robot’s actions as well as lights, sound, motors, the color sensor, the distance sensor and the gears.

The hardest part to understand, said Pan, is the gyro sensor, which measures the position of the robot in a 3D space.

Sofia Grace Harris holds up her robot.
Courtesy image

“I think the fact that first and fifth graders, after studying it for a while, are able to grasp that concept, is very impressive,” Shen said.

Shen calls the robots all unique in their own ways, as some of them are smaller and more compact, and some are larger.

“Because we have four different game modes, the students have to balance how they build the robot,” Shen said. “So, one design in one game mode might not necessarily be the best in another game.”

The different game modes involve using a distance sensor to trigger the robot to offer a performance introducing the team, a color-sensing game where the robot will use its programming to interact with objects of the correct color, a balloon-popping game and finally the rumble, where three teams will try to push one another’s robots into the holes and into automated obstacles, such as rotating saws, in the arena.

Shen and Pan said the competition offers a chance for students to build valuable skills for the future.

“I think this is just a stepping stone to help them achieve what they want to achieve in the future, since we're showing them so many different aspects of robotics and engineering,” Shen said.

“They also build up the confidence and teamwork and leadership skills, because we put them in a team, so for one project, they will have to communicate with each other,” Pan said.

Pan emphasized her hopes that next year, the involvement will grow in size. 

“We will promote this program in this area, maybe the surrounding area, so more and more kids will know about robotics. It's the future. Fab Lab offers such a good, innovative hands-on program here. It's not just learning, but a lot of fun here.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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