FIRST Lego League showcases student innovations

JENNIFER NOBLIT, ThisWeek Community News
The Dublin FIRST Lego Robotics team Colchis Bulls participated at a district competition at Jerome High School Saturday, Jan. 11. The team of Sarvesh Gupta (front), and (from left) Zak Birnbrich, Nick Griffith, Colin Gagne, Alex Abreo, Jake Shepherd and Arvind Kumar created the Universal Fire Ban-d to prevent wildfires.

Floods, wildfires, tornadoes and other natural disasters were on the minds of central Ohio students that converged upon Jerome High School Saturday, Jan. 11.

The Dublin Robotics FIRST Lego League District Tournament hosted 23 teams from central Ohio vying for one of seven spots at the state competition.

"We have home school teams, neighborhood teams (and) teams from schools," said Cindy Bryden tournament director and Dublin Robotics Boost president.

The daylong competition gave teams of elementary and middle school students a chance to send their robots through challenges in a practice round before competition began.

"They practice and get the jitters out," Bryden said, noting the programmed robots might need a few fixes after a practice round.

Teams also present projects to judges and this year had to solve a problem created by a natural disaster.

Bryden said judges look at research done by students and if the project is interesting and innovative.

"The center point is the actual solution itself," she said. "Is there something like it out there anywhere else in the world? Are they improving on something?"

Brick Nexus, a team of home-schooled students from the Columbus and New Albany area, dealt with flooding for its project.

"It can be put at the flood line and alerts local emergency management," said Stephen Troutner, a seventh-grader.

The prototype built for the robotics competition consisted of tubing connected to an alarm that went off when rushing water entered it.

The team talked to local meteorologist Bill Kelly for research and even corresponded with emergency management workers in Franklin County and Colorado to get feedback on the idea.

The Dublin-based team Colchis Bulls contacted firefighters and fire prevention groups in California for research about its project.

After researching causes of wildfires, the team found that chains dragged from vehicles can spark and start fires. The team created the "Universal Fire Ban-d," a piece of fire resistant material that can be attached using Velcro around chains used for hauling.

"We did a burn test and tested it on roads with salt," Sells Middle School sixth grader Colin Gagne said. "We did tests on flammability and looked at cost."

The band would cost about $9.50, said Jake Shepherd, a Sells seventh-grader.

Some teams looked at responses to a natural disaster, but the Colchis Bulls looked at another angle, said team mentor and Coffman High School freshman Akanksha Malhotra.

"They looked at prevention," she said. "It's so simple."