Trash Trek Kickoff!

FIRST LEGO League just officially announced the full details of this year’s Trash Trek FLL challenge.  Be sure to view the videos below and check out all the details at the FLL Trash Trek web page.



The Robot Challenge is very different from last year.  There are some very creative and well thought out missions that reflect real-world waste management issues we discussed this summer:

Our team rule master will have to go through the documentation with a fine-tooth comb.  The video above explains that there is a 60% reduction in words and a 30% reduction in rules.  From our experience last year, at the highest level the Robot Challenge involves carefully dissecting the new FLL rulebook to find the legal exceptions/interpretations that allow for optimal engineering solutions.


The Research Project is refreshingly open-ended.  It appears that all the ideas we discussed this past summer are viable under the Trash Trek Topic Guide published today.

We’ll review and summarize at our first meeting.  Go GambierGigaFlops!

A Brave New World and Old Theory of Labor

Here is a decent overview of how robotics, automation and artificial intelligence have advanced to threaten a large percentage of the current human labor market.  The phenomena often goes by the moniker Technological Unemployment.

One notable error @ 6:45:  insurance companies do not welcome driverless cars.  Industry analysts forecast large reductions in insurance revenues with the successful introduction of driverless autos and are seeking alternative / replacement revenue streams.

NPR has a good infographic (remember discussing those?) that every high school counselor should memorize.  It gives the probability of various human jobs being automated within the next 20 years (or when you kids are about 31 years old and hopefully established in your careers).  In sum, avoid jobs that don’t require (a) clever solutions, (b) personally helping others, (c) squeezing into small spaces and (d) negotiation skills.

Fringe as it may have seemed just a generation ago, this massive downward shift in the value of much human labor makes the topic of Basic Income seem like one of the few workable ideas to address the potential future problem of mass human unemployability.  Basic Income is an idea over 200 year old wherein a fixed amount of money is regularly paid by the government to every citizen unconditionally and regardless of need (as opposed to welfare which is usually restricted to means/needs testing).  Although technology will likely continue provide resources in excess for intrinsically zero/negative growth wealthy countries like the United States, the psychological adjustment to find meaning in a life without work/utility may be quite traumatic.


Without conscious, organized and carefully considered interventions it is hard to envision an alternative to the inertia of profit, curiosity and power coalescing to engineer our own obsolescence.  Hopefully FIRST LEGO League will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation about these issues to help you be the part of humanity that can address this growing problem.


2015 Trash Trek Robot Challenge Preview

Although the official release of the 2015 Trash Trek Robot Challenge isn’t until next week at noon on the 25th, here is a great preview of how very different this year’s challenge will be compared to last years:


For comparison, here is a quick walk through of last year’s 2014 World Classroom Robot Challenge:


BTW, this year’s new mat looks like a throwback to the 2011 design for the Food Factor Robot Challenge:



Here are a few notable differences comparing this year’s mat to last year’s mat:

  • Photorealistic graphic images on mat (will interfere with color sensors)
  • No colored lines, all lines are think black (solves problem of color sensors having problems differentiating between black/green)
  • No lines or missions at odd angles, all are at multiples of 90 degrees with a white margin
  • Base is round instead of rectangular with a much smaller area and buffer zone around outside
  • Lines are much more connected and continuous
  • Missions seem more clustered and organized along imaginary axis on mat
We’ll discuss and analyze how this new mat presents new challenges and may redirect our development efforts.


Summer Training Recap

beach-summer-end-web-370x229Congrats on a long and well executed summer FLL season.  This should make our fall season much more sane and manageable as we enter the school season with:

First Week of June:  1 week (6hr/day, 30 hours) programming:  LEGO Mindstorms Programming, Scratch online programming, App Inventor programming for Android Smart Phone, Roblox online game programming, JavaScript and introduction to more advanced 3D game programming via Unity

Second Week of June:  1 week (6hr/day, 30 hours) research, innovation and entrepreneurship including sussing out good from bad ideas, business plans, financial analysis, mathematical modeling, marketing/sales, back of the napkin estimation, etc

June – August:  This summer we mostly met as 2 separate groups meeting twice a week in total:  Robot Challenge and Research Project.  At approximately (2) 1.5 hr meetings per week for approximately 10 weeks that leaves us with a total of 2 meetings/wk * 10 wks * 1.5 hrs/meeting = 30 hours in regular meetings.  We had a couple weeks with 4 meetings/week, the robot team actually met for more 2 hours often and JP had a few video conferences from Costa Rica outside normal meeting hours.


With our approximately 100 hours of preparation this summer we’ve accomplished:

Robotic Challenge:  building most of our basic reusable MyBlocks needed to navigate our mat along with a logical multi-level hierarchy of nesting that allows up to decompose complex problems into basic programming tasks.

Research Project:  we cycled through 3 basic business ideas and exhaustively brainstormed, researched and outlined each from a variety of legal, regulatory, financial, technical, usability, marketing/sales and other perspectives.  We’ve researched, identified and contacted a number of domain experts in our initial research and have several more leads to reach out to.  We enter the fall with a pretty solid idea that we can more confidently execute upon given the knowledge we gained from our previous experience.

Next week, with the start of school, we’ll take a break as everyone confirms their new fall schedules.  As a reward for all our hard work this summer, we’ll likely face a more sane and enjoyable Fall FLL season.  Good work guys.good-job-picard


T-18 days to FLL Launch


The official 2015-2016 FIRST LEGO League Trash Trek challenge will be revealed at noon on Tuesday, August 25th.  Although we’ve put in a lot of work this summer to lay the foundations for a successful and less-stressful fall FLL season, this announcement will allow us to hone our work, especially on our Research Project.

Here is an email blast from FLL that dropped into my inbox today to update everyone on the upcoming FLL launch date:



“We have to be aware of waste in order to make the right decisions. If you can be educated at nine, you can make a difference at nine.”
– TRASH TREKSM Challenge Advisory Team member Jean Soltys, Director of Environmental Compliance, Clean Harbors Environmental Services



Like you, we are eagerly awaiting the Global Challenge release at noon ET on Tuesday, Aug. 25.


Rumor has it

The buzz around headquarters is that the Robot Rules have been on a diet this summer.


Tell me more!

Sorry, that’s all you get before the big reveal! In the meantime, there are some great video projects you can work on while you wait for those all-important Project parameters and Robot Game Missions, Rules and Field Setup.



Cool contest alert

FIRST is looking for a brand new way to reach others outside of our community! Since parody is the sincerest form of flattery, we want you to re-create your favorite song — FIRST style! Check it out:


Guessing game

Let’s not forget about this great contest that allows your team to predict what missions our Robot Game might include.


The greater good
Did you record any of your judging sessions last season? Your video could help train our volunteer judges! Help us help them! Please upload your video and send the link to by Aug. 14. 



Who learned how to use a sensor for your Robot this week? Take a bow!

Who took a field trip to decide on possible Project ideas? Pat yourselves on the back!

Who found a way to incorporate Core Values into your team meetings? A standing ovation to you!

Tell us all about your team’s summer activities and achievements with a tweet to @firstlegoleagueShout-out to @MetalandSoul for sharing team member Noah’s awe-inspiring ‘do. We call that a most definitely ‘do!



Check out how a former FLL Global Innovation Semi-Finalist team, the Robot Rights of Dublin, Ohio, USA, has been sharing their love of FIRST LEGO League with an awesome YouTube video they created about FLL. Pass it on to your friends who might be wondering what FLL is all about.  (Hint: It’s not the hokey pokey.) It’s not too late for them to start or join a team!


Remind me again…

The Robot Rights were among 20 teams invited to St. Louis this past April to present their Project idea to a panel of judges in pursuit of the FLL Global Innovation Award, presented by XPRIZE. They created Math Magic, a trading card game, to help kids learn math in a fun and interesting way for their FLL WORLD CLASS(SM) Project. As part of their FLL Global Innovation honors, the Robot Rights became official Innovation Ambassadors. Their video shows they take that charge seriously and still have loads of fun. We’re glad they will be returning to compete in TRASH TREK this year.



We are all a little sad that hitchBOT’s journey came to an unfortunate end in Philadelphia.


This is why the world needs more Gracious Professionals like you.


Why this would never happen to a FIRST LEGO League robot

They don’t have to hitch a ride. They are autonomous. That means they can drive themselves. Future, we are in you!



We couldn’t do this season without the incredible support of our FIRST® LEGO® League Global Sponsors. Three cheers for 3M, NI, Rockwell Automation, and, of course, LEGO®!



This email blast is exploding into cyberspace from FIRST® Headquarters in the millyard of Manchester, NH, USA. Keep your eyes peeled for news and messages from your regional FIRST LEGO League contacts.