Folsom/El Dorado News

Folsom kids to flex robotics skill in national competition

A team of Folsom youths will travel to St. Louis next week to compete in a national competition testing its skill in robotics, engineering and teamwork.

The team of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from various Folsom schools rushed into action on a recent day to display its robotic rescue vehicle, constructed of Lego blocks and several compatible electronic gizmos to make it go, stop and find its position. Once the various Lego objects in need of rescue are set, the robot is launched with the push of a button.

The team of seven is in as much of a rush as their robot. Team members jump in offering tidbits about their fast-approaching competition, often stepping on each other’s toes in the rush. If they are to take home the prized Legos at the First Lego League’s World Festival in St. Louis, their teamwork and presentation skills must be as honed as their skills in robotics and engineering. The team has been together for four years and has won smaller Lego competitions.

“We have to show how we work as a team,” said Akshay Srinivansan, a seventh-grader at Winston Churchill Middle School.

This year’s competition, themed “Nature’s Fury,” will feature 85 teams from around the world in the three-day event starting April 23. Teams will be judged on four components: robot design, robot performance, core values (teamwork) and a theme-related project.

The Folsom team, dubbed Phoenix Fury, chose an emergency cellphone charger that converts body heat into usable energy as its project. The project is a prototype at this point, but the team members, ages 11 to 13, hope to have their armband charger working by the time they fly to the Midwest.

Jeremy Szeto, an eighth-grader at Sutter Middle School, said their emergency charger is a better option because it works in all environments.

“Solar needs sunlight. Wind (chargers) need the wind,” Szeto said.

The group said it created the emergency charger with the victims of Hurricane Sandy in mind. During that storm, thousands of people lost touch with loved ones after losing power at their homes. The armband charger would allow future victims to make a quick call or send a text message, assuming cellphone towers survive.

“You just put it on your arm and charge a phone,” Aiden Szeto, a Sutter Middle School sixth-grader, said of the team’s charger.

“All you need is body temperature and you’re good to go,” added Jeremy, his older brother.

With their additional free time during spring break, the kids, who all met as students at Phoenix School in Folsom, will be cramming on their project, but will also continue to refine the operation of their robot.

The Lego rescue vehicle – equipped with a control unit, three motors and two sensors – carries out the tasks, then returns to “base” for additional instructions or to have parts swapped out for other missions – from saving Lego pets to collecting stranded vehicles to knocking down trees.

“I think our robot is the best because of the grid system,” said Nicole Schneiderman, a seventh-grader at Phoenix School “It really saves time between robot runs.”