Sci&Tech writer, Roshni Patel, describes the excitement of this year’s LEGO league at the University of Birmingham!
This January, the University of Birmingham hosted the first LEGO League for the 2nd year running, which saw the Munrow Sports hall filled with over 130 master builders of all ages. Boys and girls alike attended the West Midlands heats; budding engineers at heart with their robotic LEGO creations in hand. Last year the LEGO Movie was the 4th highest grossing film and its main character, Emmet, even found his way onto the walls of Moor Street station ahead of this year’s LEGO League.
The competition asked teams to create a robot out of LEGO and find their own unique answer to the challenge theme posed. This year the theme, World Class, asked students to redesign the way we learn and gather knowledge. There were also LEGO challenges, which required students to think of inventive solutions to problems, often requiring additional attachments to push, grasp or throw items.
This year saw the number of teams more than double; there were even more innovative robots assembled to take on the challenges and each other. Teams spent all their spare minutes practicing and calibrating their code, each of them after the edge that would secure an unbeatable score and a place in the semi-finals. Robot judges were impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm shown by the teams. There were lots of excellent robots, but the prize was ultimately awarded for teamwork and making best use of the sensors and tools available.
The first heats saw Backspace (The King’s School, Worcester), Cedars Engineering Club (Cedars Upper School, Leighton Buzzard) and Stoke Park Master Builders (Stoke Park School, Coventry) dominate the scores, with Shrub Street STEM (Shrubland Street Primary School, Leamington Spa) narrowly missing out on a place in the semi-finals to The Blockheads (King Edward’s School, Stratford on Avon). But Backspace certainly started as they meant to go on, taking the competition by a landslide and completing challenge after challenge. These ranged from simple obstacles, which required pushing LEGO people and barriers, to more difficult tasks such as launching a ball into a small goal and retrieving items from the challenge.
But it wasn’t about the robot alone, participants were also required to present solutions to this year’s theme. Judges were sourced from far and wide, with representatives from IBM, IET, Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme (DTUS) and Network Rail, as well as current and former lecturers and staff from the School of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering (EESE). Many brilliant ideas were presented, but some of the judge’s favourites included: teaching blind students, an app to teach students Chinese, and an interactive LEGO model for learning orders (for example, history timelines).
The day took months to plan and wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of staff at EESE, especially Dr Tim Jackson and Carolyn Toney. Tim Jackson, a strong advocate of similar events for children, said: “The First LEGO League provides an exciting opportunity for children to set their imagination free while applying what they learn in science and engineering to the wider world. The promotion of science and engineering subjects within schools is important to providing a well-educated, technically-trained workforce suitable for a knowledge-based economy.”
LEGO trophies were awarded to various teams for best newcomer, best project, robot design, core values and knockout finals. Another, larger trophy was awarded to the overall winner, who will progress to the UK finals at Loughborough University in February. The winners, Cedars Engineering Club, will have to race against the best British robots for a chance to take on the rest of the world at the World Festival in St Louis, USA, to win the title of tournament champion. For now at least, the LEGO league is over; this year’s teams and many more young engineers will undoubtedly look forward next year’s challenge: Trash Trek; “Finding better ways to manage our trash”.