By Ravi Pandya
M-Cubed, a First Lego League robotics team, received the 1st Place Champion’s Award (the most prestigious award any team can earn) at the Northern California State Championship on Jan. 29 at Newark Memorial High School.
This tournament was the third level of competition. There are about 400 teams in all of Northern California that participated in First Lego League this year, and only 48 teams got to the state level.
There are four parts to the competition; robot games, robot design, research and teamwork. All four categories are taken into equal consideration in judging for the Champion’s Award. M-Cubed placed very well in all four categories, receiving the Champion’s Award. M-Cubed was then invited to the U.S. Open Championship, where champion teams from all fifty states, and a few other countries, are invited to participate. The competition will be held on May 21-22 at Legoland in San Diego.
First Lego League is a program that encourages kids to get involved in science and technology. The ages of the team members of M-Cubed, the Machine MasterMinds, range from 12 to 15 years of age, consisting of seventh, eighth, and 10th graders. The team members are Nishita Jain, Ravi Pandya, Justin Voo, Simon Kim, Shefali Pandya and Hammad Bashir.
The first category of the competition is the robot game. This is the only part of the competition that is open to the public. Before the competition, the team builds and programs their robot to do different tasks on the “field,” a 4-foot by 8-foot table where the robot performs. All of the tasks on the table have to do with the yearly challenge; this year’s being Body Forward.
Some tasks in this challenge include a mechanical arm, repairing a bone with a cast and destroying bad cells. At the competition, there are two tables side by side, and there is one team on each table. Teams get two-and-a-half minutes to let their robot complete all of the tasks it can but the robot must be completely autonomous. There is a square in the corner of the table where the team is allowed to handle the robot without receiving a penalty, like switching attachments to do different tasks. Each team gets a few chances to run their robot during the day. M-Cubed scored 320 points as their highest score out of the possible 400.
The second category is robot design, where the team presents their robot to a panel of judges and explains key and unique features of their robot. At the beginning of the season each team starts out with some basic pieces: the brick (the “brain” of the robot), the motors (the “muscles” of the robot that get commands from the brick), and sensors (these include touch sensors, color sensors and ultrasonic sensors that are controlled by the brick), and, of course, the LEGOs. The judges look for a stable robot, with a robust and modular design. They also want to know about the robot’s attachments and programs.
One unique aspect of M-Cubed’s robot is the attachment to accomplish the bad cell destruction task. For this task, there are five “tissue” cells that are black on one side and white on the other, and the judge is allowed to flip them into a random order at any time during the robot run except when the robot is interacting with it or if they are in “scoring position.” The robot is supposed to align them a certain way and since this is the most difficult task only a few teams attempted it, and M-Cubed was one of them. Their attachment is connected to the top motor and using gears has created a rack and pinion motion. This lets their robot have a second plane of motion, to make it easier to do the task.
The third category consists of presenting the team’s research solution to several judges. In the Body Forward research category each team picked a body part and either found a problem with that part and came up with a solution, or found a way to improve an existing solution. M-Cubed chose the eye and the problems related to eye care.
M-Cubed came up with two solutions on resolving the problem of expensive eye care for people in developing countries. The team’s first solution is to use self-adjusting glasses. The lenses of the glasses are made of a flexible plastic material. Inside the lenses, there is a material called silicone gel, which refracts light to get similar results to normal glasses. There are syringes on the sides of the lenses with the same silicone gel inside them. When you push the syringes they release gel and when you pull the syringes they take in gel. The syringes, depending how much gel you use, will tell you your prescription.
The second solution is to use a cell phone app and a telescopic view finder to view a Snellen chart. The telescopic view finder has infinity-vision, which is used to create the regulated distance of 20 feet using a series of mirrors and contains the same gel-filled lens as the self-adjustable glasses. You use the same method with the syringes to adjust to the point where you can clearly see. Based on the results you enter, the app will tell you your prescription.
M-cubed has also collected eye glasses through donations and has already partnered with the El Dorado Hills Lions Club to distribute them. They have also donated glasses to the Shriner’s Hospital and are planning to volunteer at the California State Fair to assist professional doctors in organizing free eye exams in April.
The fourth part of the competition is teamwork. In teamwork judging a panel of judges evaluates how well the team works together to accomplish solutions to various aspects of the challenge. The team is also evaluated on their community outreach efforts.
M-cubed is now looking forward to an exciting U.S. Open Championship, and will be preparing for it over the course of the next few months.