Robot Competition: First Trial


We got our robot on the mat yesterday and had it travel along our first path to address 3-1/2 missions along the West Wall.  Sovli put some more fixes to our robot chassis, David started in on some code and the others were helping out designing and building mission specific attachments and discussing ways we can approach our second path and solve those missions.

A good summary of what we should think about and document is given at the following three links:





If you haven’t done it yet, please download the free LEGO NXT Mindstorms Software and at least look at all the programming blocks and options available for each.  If you’re bolder, try writing a few short programs to navigate around the mat or follow lines to test in our next meeting.  You can even download and load into this software programs from other FFL years to follow lines, squaring up, etc. to see how this works (just follow the links I posted earlier or google for FFL NXT blocks or code).


Here is the code David was testing on Tuesday.  It is only a basic outline, and there are a number we are expected to improve it (time allowing) including:  comments, modularize it with blocks, recalibrate our  dead reckoning by reading lines or squaring up with walls/missions, etc.  The picture above shows the overall program flow.  Pictures below show configurations for each of the 7 blocks.








I’d like to have everyone write at least some code and certainly understand everything that is written for our robot.


Team T-shirt Design Vote

1452.i-want-you-to-vote-2 Here are the 2 final designs for our logo and T-shirt.  We’re looking at a small logo on the front over the right chest and a larger print centered on the back.

Design A


( Small Front Logo over Right Chest )

logo2_tee_back( Large Rear Logo centered on Back )

Design B

logo1_tee_front ( Small Front Logo over Right Chest ) logo1_tee_back

( Large Rear Logo centered on Back )

I’ll need your shirt size and vote for one of the two designs above to place the order by the end of this week.  It would be ideal to have them ready by our Demo Day Open House and the printers need at least 2 weeks lead time.

UPDATEDesign A wins and our robot name is “FlopBot“.  It’s off to the printers – hopefully to be ready by our Demo Day Open House on Thursday, March 13th!

Prep for Regional Tournament in FOUR weeks

Grandview Heights MiddleSchool

We have our Regional Tournament in only four week’s time at the Edison Intermediate/Larry Larson Middle School in Grandview Heights.  We are in one of the earlier rounds and organizers try to woo teams to register for these events by slightly more teams to advance to the next round (30%).

You can find a pre-tournament checklist at the website:

Here are highlights of the paperwork we are expected to prepare for the tournament:

1) Online consent form (Trey is the only one not accounted for)

2) Team Information Sheet

3) Core Values Poster

4) Robot Design Executive Summary

Here are some questions all team members will be expected to answer in the Core Value Judging Session:

• Explain how your team demonstrates each of the FLL Core Values. Please use clear, concrete examples in your essay.
• Discuss your teamwork. Items to consider in your discussion: leadership roles, division of tasks, conflict resolution, problem solving, etc.
• Explain the role of the coaches and mentors on your team. Items to consider in your discussion: How has your coach or mentor influenced the team? Is your coach a good teacher? How do the kids make decisions? How does the team demonstrate its independence? What are some things your coached learned from you?
• Explain how your team is able to balance the competitive need to win with the ability to have fun and to embrace other teams in a spirit of friendship, whether your team wins an award or not.
• Explain what Gracious Professionalism® means to your team and give examples of how your team displays Gracious Professionalism® to each other and to others
• Give examples of your outreach. You may draw your examples from your research project and/or from outreach you have done on behalf of the FIRST® LEGO® League program. Explain an idea or a plan that you have for promoting FIRST® in your community.

Demo Day: See One, Do One, Teach One


That’s how they roll in medical school and so shall we.

Now that we’ve begun learning about First LEGO League (FLL), Robotics, Programming, Mechanics, and Original STEM Research Projects, it’s our turn to share our enthusiasm and insights with our community.  Community outreach is an important mission and demonstrates FLL Core Values.

Introducing, the first-ever Knox County First LEGO League Demo Day!

fll_2014_openhouse( Poster by Beckett Pechon-Elkins )


We’ll have two 30 minute sessions.  The first, 11-11:30am will be a closed session for the Gambier Community Child Care Center with upto 30 preschoolers and upto 20 K-5th graders.  The second, 11:30-noon will be an open session for the public of all ages.

Both sessions will follow the same rough outline worked out by Beckett:

(1) (3 min) Introduce our Team

(2) (3 min) What is First LEGO League?

(3) (7 min/5min) Introduce Technic Building System, Demo Simple/Complex Machine Examples

(4) (8 min) Introduce our Robot and Competition, Demo Programming and Mission

(5) (5min/7 min) Introduce our Research Project, Demo Software?

(6) (time permitting) Q & A

In first closed session there will be mostly preschoolers, so they will probably be less interested in our more abstract Research Project and more interested in the concrete touch-feel aspects of the technic machine examples and robot.  In the second closed session, we’ll hopefully have older kids with more patience who can appreciate our Research Project so we’ll allocate more time to it.

We’ve got a lot of learning to cram in before Demo Day, but we’re starting to get all our bases covered.

UPDATE:  It turns out Christian Star Academy once fielded FLL team in the year 2007.  We will still be the first community-based FLL team that is open to all members of the area including homeschoolers, middle schoolers, and elementary kids from different schools and potentially private schoolers as well as public school kids.  This is the one big advantage of the community-based model for FLL teams and a reason why it is so popular.

Robotics: Ethics


Isaac Asimov famously codifed his robot ethics in a 1942 short story “Runaround”.  These have become known as The Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Unfortunately, as computing power and robotics become ever more sophisticated and dominate in our lives these rules become clouded with the illogical, immoral and inconsistent implementation by humans.

Also, a major goal of robotics is to bestow them with independent thought and creativity which could lead to other problems.  Just ask Dave in the 1968 film 2001:  A Space Odyssey which itself was based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 1948 short story “The Sentinel”.


What is amazing is that these two stories first identified the fundamental problems with robot morality and ethics yet were written approximately 70 years ago.

A more current example with driverless vehicles hitting the road “soon” is discussed in a Wired article that examines the legal and moral consequences of allowing these robots to have “programmable morality”.  Should a robot be programmed to intentionally drive into a solitary pedestrian killing him/her in order to avoid likely killing 5 drivers in a multicar pile-up that would occur without any intervention?

Let’s hope our robot future turns out better than one envisioned in the Pixar movie Wall-E:

Research Project: Knox County Historical Society Museum

A good part of our team visited the Museum of the Knox County Historical Society after choir practice this evening (the museum has non-standard hours).

We were there to learn about our local history and get primary source information and feedback on our FLL Research Project.  With clipboards in hand and pages of questions, we have a lot of information to share with the team.  In addition, we have about another half dozen or so primary sources to reach out to so get ready to stretch some shoe-leather.

Here are about 9,000 words worth of pictures:

sign( A Night at the Museum )

1800s_robot( First LEGO League robot circa 1800s )

cooper_bessemer_map( Mt Vernon engineers built bridges and engines for the continent )

early_jet_engine( Retired Rolls Royce Engineer explaining a Jet Engine similar to ones he worked on )

geo_washington( Our gracious host and Museum Director, Mr. James Gibson )

maps_boys( If only everything could be presented in map form )

news_archives( Kids are shocked to learn information was stored on PAPER ! )

ppg_glass_factory( No Aeron chairs on the Old Pittsburgh Plate Glass Factory Floor )

  time_capsule ( 1805 Time Capsule to be Opened when these kids are eligible for AARP )

FLL Core Values


Unlike the Robot Competition or Research Project, the Core Value component of our tournament is less straightforward.  However, it is equal in value to the other two at 1,000 points.

First off, as coaches we’ve been told to prepare our kids to be grilled on the definition of two key FFL concepts.  Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition.

Gracious Professionalism®

Gracious Professionalism means teams compete like crazy against challenges
but appreciate and treat each other with respect. Your enemy is the problem you’re
trying to solve — not an opposing team or person. Gracious professionals lend a
helping hand to an opponent when needed because they want everyone to have a
chance to compete.
With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate
ideas. Gracious professionals learn and compete intensely, but treat one another
with kindness in the process. Even when a team wins the competition, they avoid
treating anyone like losers.
In the long run, Gracious Professionalism is part of pursuing a meaningful life. You
can enjoy personal success while also making a contribution to society. FLL team
members will learn that they can succeed while still acting with integrity.


Coopertition® combines the concepts of cooperation and competition. Coopertition
is founded on the philosophy that teams can (and should!) cooperate with each other
even as they compete.
Once you have mastered a skill, you teach it to someone else so that everyone
can do better next time. It will make the competition more meaningful by pushing
everyone to excel. Sometimes it even means sharing a spare part or battery charger
with another team so they have a chance to compete. You still do your best to win,
just not at the other team’s expense.


The FLL Coaches Handbook summarizes FLL Core Values as:
▲ We are a team.
▲ We do the work to find solutions with guidance
from our Coaches and Mentors.
▲ We know our Coaches and Mentors don’t have
all the answers; we learn together.
▲ We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
▲ What we discover is more important than what we win.
▲ We share our experiences with others.
▲ We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.
▲ We have fun

In concrete terms, this means that we demonstrate these values in:

* Our Team Challenge Judging Room where we’ll be given a problem that we have to solve and how well we work together as a team is more important than the particular solution we come up with.

* Our outreach to other members in the community:  our research project experts, our demo day, our press release, etc.

* Our having fun and learning as reflected in our explorations at COSI, Historical Society, Events, our team T-shirts and unique hats

There is a lot of overlap in Core Values with what Judges see in our other two areas of competition as well.  Here is a recommended layout for a Core Value poster we can present to the judges during our Instant Challenge:


You can read the details of how we populate this Core Value poster and how FLL judges are instructed to grade our team.


Score Card Assessment: 4 Weeks Left

With only 4 weeks left before our November 22nd tournament in Grandview, I’ll start posting a summary of where we feel we are relative to what is expected of us.

A. 1,000 Points CORE VALUES


1. Discovery:  Balanced emphasis on all three aspects (Robot, Project, Core Values) of FLL; it’s not just about winning awards

2. Team Spirit:  Enthusiastic and fun expression of the team identity

3. Integration:  Application of FLL values and skills outside FLL (ability to describe current and potential examples from daily life)


1. Effectiveness:  Problem solving and decision making processes help team achieve their goals

2. Efficiency:  Resources used relative to what the team accomplishes (time management, distribution of roles and responsibilities)

3. Kids do the Work:  Appropriate balance between team responsibility and coach guidance


1. Inclusion:  Consideration and appreciation for the contributions (ideas and skills) of all team members, with balanced involvement

2. Respect:  Team members act and speak with integrity so others feel valued– especially when solving problems or resolving conflicts

3. Coopertition:  Team competes in the spirit of friendly competition and cooperates with others




1. Problem Identification:  Clear definition of the problem being studied

2. Sources of Information:  Types (e.g. books, magazines, websites, reports and other resources) and number of quality sources cited, including professionals in the field

3. Problem Analysis:  Depth to which the problem was studied and analyzed by the team

4. Review of Existing Solutions:  Extent to which existing solutions were analyzed by the team, Including an effort to verify the originality of the team’s solution


1. Team Solution:  Clear explanation of the proposed solution

2. Innovation:  Degree to which the team’s solution makes life better by improving existing options, developing a new application of existing ideas, or solving the problem in a completely new way

3. Implementation:  Consideration of factors for implementation (cost, ease of manufacturing, etc.)


1.  Sharing:  Degree to which the team shared their Project before the tournament with others who might benefit from the team’s efforts

2. Creativity:  Imagination used to develop and deliver the presentation

3. Presentation Effectiveness:  Message delivery and organization of the presentation


C. 1,000 Points ROBOT DESIGN


1. Durability:  Evidence of structural integrity; ability to withstand rigors of competition

2. Mechanical Efficiency:  Economic use of parts and time; easy to repair and modify

3. Mechanization:  Ability of robot mechanisms to move or act with appropriate speed, strength and accuracy for intended tasks (propulsion and execution)


1. Programming Quality:  Programs are appropriate for the intended purpose and would achieve consistent results, assuming no mechanical faults

2. Programming Efficiency:  Programs are modular, streamlined, and understandable

3. Automation / Navigation:  Ability of the robot to move or act as intended using mechanical and/or sensor feedback (with minimal reliance on driver intervention and/or program timing)


1. Design Process:  Ability to develop and explain improvement cycles where alternatives are considered and narrowed, selections tested, designs improved (applies to programming as well as mechanical design)

2. Mission Strategy:  Ability to clearly define and describe the team’s game strategy

3. Innovation:  Creation of new, unique, or unexpected feature(s) (e.g. designs, programs, strategies or applications) that are beneficial in performing the specified tasks

LEGO Technic Gears


Gears are mesmerizing works of art:

Gears will be an integral part of our robot solution and will be one of the more fun components we’ll work with to distribute power from motors along axels, change planes of rotation via bevel gears, convert between torque and speed by gearing up and down, etc.  I’ve exhaustively searched the LEGO part catalog and ordered a wide variety of gears of all shapes and sizes as well as axles of all lengths/types, gear boxes, differentials, and other supporting pieces.

Here is a good overview of common gears in the LEGO technic building system and how to use them:

And here is an example of a several complex gear system used to create a technic model of a mobile crane (Mobile Crane MKII):


Although it may not play a direct role in our robot solution, here is a great explanation of how differential gears work in your car.  This is a complex gear design and one that is hard to grasp without great visuals and hands the on experience of FLL ( start viewing at about 2:00 ):