AUGUSTA – Madison Corgan, 10, loaded a blue-and-white piece of “quilt” into the arms of her team’s robot, Sam, pushed a button or two and then watched, smiling widely but nervously, as the Lego robot went about the tasks the team had programmed it to do.
Sam, a small, gray robot that gets around on tiny tank tracks, motored away from its home base, turned left, went directly to a waiting section of blue-and-white simulated quilt, and successfully deposited its payload of the matching quilt piece so it touched the rest of the quilt.
Score one for the Cornerstone Bricklayers, a rookie team of youths from a homeschooled group of the Cornerstone Community Church, of Winthrop.
Madison was one of some 520 children who took part Saturday in the 13th annual Maine FIRST Lego League Championship at the Augusta Civic Center.
This year’s theme, “Senior Solutions,” focused on solving problems people might have as they age.
In addition to competing in designing, building and programming robots to simulate tasks, the participants, ages 9-14, also interviewed senior citizens and set about coming up with a solution to a problem they faced.
The Albert S. Hall School team from Waterville decided to work on a solution to unattended cooking, which team members said is the No. 1 cause of house fires.
Their solution was Hector the Detector, a device that can be attached to a stove and is capable of sensing when a pot is on a burner, tracking its temperature and shutting off the stove if it gets too hot.
“If it gets over 500 degrees, Hector shuts off the stove automatically,” said David Ramgren, 10. “It will help people because if a fire starts, you could be burned or even die.”
Teammates Alex Millones and Abigail Bloom took turns pushing buttons to direct the Albert S. Hall School team’s robot to pick up a Lego chair and return it to them so they could repair it, and then drive up a set of stairs onto an unstable platform and come to a stop.
“I like trying to program it. Sometimes it’s a degree off and you have to tweak it and tweak it,” Alex said.
The Waterville team received grant funding from a Colby College professor and Time Warner Cable to buy its robot and a related Lego kit. Fielding and equipping a FIRST Lego team can cost $450 to $880, according to Maine Robotics’ website.
Parents of participants said it’s a great way to get children interested in science and problem-solving.
“Abigail had never shown much interest in computers, but this has transformed her,” Lawrence Bloom said. “I can see the growth in her interest and ability.”
Coach and teacher Laurette Darling said the robotics event has been on her “professional bucket list.” She said the school had to hold a lottery to select the team because so many students wanted to take part.
FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a nonprofit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen and meant to interest young people in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Keith Edwards – 621-5647