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Albuquerque 4-H clubs join FIRST Lego League robotics competition

ALBUQUERQUE ? Three 4-H clubs in Albuquerque are discovering the challenging fun of competing in FIRST Lego League, where they research innovative solutions to a problem and build a LEGO autonomous robot to accomplish set tasks.

Group of youth working with Lego robot
Members of the Cyborgs 4-H Robotics Club test their robot prior to FIRST Lego League competition. Cyborgs are one of three robotic 4-H clubs in Albuquerque. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)

?With STEM being such a major focus right now, we thought robotics would be a great way to integrate science, technology, engineering and math into a fun activity where the kids do hands-on projects and research,? said Brittany Grube, urban 4-H agent with New Mexico State University?s Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service.

FIRST ? For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology ? Lego League is an international program that engages youth in playful and meaningful learning while helping them discover the fun in science and technology.

?Currently we have two FLL teams for youth ages 9-14 ? Cyborgs and Storm Defense Team ?and one high school FIRST Tech Challenge team,? Grube said. ?Our plan is to continue growing the program and we would like to double our teams next year.?

Brett Webb, 4-H leader and coach of the Storm Defense Team, said 4-H and FIRST Lego League fit together well.

?There is a lot of overlap in the two organizations? philosophies,? he said. ?They both believe in having the kids do the work and the adults are there as guides. It allows the kids to really get involved and make the decisions while working as a group.?

This is the first year the 4-H clubs participated in the FLL program.

?When I heard we were going to do FLL, I thought it was either going to be really simple or really complicated,? said Cyborgs member Isaac Bryson. ?I like how they put it in a way where it takes some thinking, but you can still have fun and learn how to program robots.?

Besides building and programming a Lego autonomous robot to accomplish as many tasks as possible in a set amount of time, the teams conduct research to resolve a challenge.

Each year, FLL sets a challenge on which each team will conduct research, determine a problem and create an innovative solution for the problem. This year, the challenge was titled ?Nature?s Fury? and the teams studied natural disasters such as storms, fires and earthquakes. They addressed what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work and play.

Both Albuquerque teams addressed issues associated with wildfires.

The Cyborgs realized the environmental impact of ash left by the fires.

?Ash can cause property damage, poison waterways and can hurt the environment,? Bryson said. ?We thought what would be the best way that we could use ash and get money from it to help victims of wildfires.?

Their solution was to recycle the ash by making soap.

?In the olden days, they would use the woodstove ash to make soap,? Bryson said. ?There are companies that sell ash soap, but it?s made with ash from domestically burned fires, not wildfires. Our plan would clean up the ash to help the environment recover from the fire.?

Since wildfires and floods are common in New Mexico, SDT addressed the danger for a person caught in these natural disasters. They developed Saf-T-Bubble, an inflatable sphere that a person could be inside while they ride out the danger.

?Our research found that the existing fire shelters are cumbersome and there really isn?t anything to help a person caught in a flood,? said team member Ian Webb. ?The Saf-T-Bubble is a huge inflated sphere made of fire-resistant plastic.?

A person in danger would climb inside the plastic bubble, which has an inflation fan and air purifier filter, a walkie-talkie with GPS to call for help, LED lights circling the sphere to help rescue teams find the sphere, and a window for the person to look through.

?When we showed the diagram of the Saf-T-Bubble to a forest ranger, she said it was a really great idea and that it could help save lives of forest rangers and firefighters,? said teammate Coleman Boyle.

In the robot game, the team programs an autonomous robot to attempt a variety of tasks during the two-and-a-half minute match. Those tasks included retrieving pets, people and supplies; moving various vehicles, including a supply truck and an ambulance; releasing three cylinders representing tsunami waves and a cargo plane on a flight line; and driving the robot over obstacles of house and tree debris.

SDT members Ian Webb, Eli Brown, Angelina Anastasio, Carina Anastasio, Kyle Allis, Coleman Boyle and Dominic Boyle received the Robot Design Award at the New Mexico FLL state competition.

?We had a trailer with motorized treads to carry all of the supplies instead of carrying them on the robot,? Ian Webb said. ?The treads also helped the robot climb over the obstacles on the challenge table.?

While Ian Webb has four years of FLL experience, this was the first year for Cyborgs members Isaac Bryson, Noah Bryson, Hanna Bryson, Kabody Bryson, Sean Burns, Cas Shrader and Kyle Chacon, and their coaches Jon Bryson and Christy Bryson.

?We started later than most teams, so it was mostly a learning experience,? Isaac Bryson said. ?We learned a lot of different things that we need to prepare for next year.?