Student-built robots to compete at JMU today

Posted: November 4, 2012

The Winchester Star

Sacred Heart Academy eighth-grader Chiara Mosher, 12, looks over the robot her team will use in the 2012 FIRST LEGO League competition today at James Madison University in Harrisonburg. The school has two teams competing in the challenge. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Members of the eighth-grade Sacred Heart Academy FIRST LEGO League team SOS (from left) Katie Sunderlin, 13, Jacob Solomon, 13, Alisa Dayo, 13, Andrew McCracken, 14, Lydia Sunderlin, 13, Chiara Mosher, 12, and Cat Eppard, 13, watch as their robot runs its programmed course at the school Friday.

WINCHESTER — Making a robot has two main components, according to a group of students at Sacred Heart Academy.

“Messing around and eating,” 12-year-old Sydney Aschenbrenner said with a smile.

Her teammates agreed.

What they won’t tell you is all the effort that went into making the hand-size Lego robot they showed off Friday — the computer programming, the math, the problem-solving and teamwork.

This weekend, two teams of seven students from Sacred Heart in grades sixth through eight will take their robots to the FIRST LEGO regional competition at James Madison University.

The FIRST LEGO League is a robotics program for 9- to 16-year-olds designed to get children excited about science and technology and teach them employment and life skills.

According to coach Tom Marino, the students learn computer programming that is being taught in engineering classes at the college level.

“Now, they think, ‘I want to be an engineer. I want to work in robotics,’” he said. “It’s getting them excited about this.”

Two of the Winchester teams are from Sacred Heart Academy at 110 Keating Drive and the other is from Eukarya Christian Academy on Cameron Street.

They will compete against seven other teams: two from Grymes Memorial School in Orange, two from Luray Middle School and one each from Montevideo Middle School in Penn Laird, Page Middle School in Shenandoah and Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg.

Nationwide, more than 10,000 teams will compete to reach the state and then national level.

As part of the competition, students are required to program an autonomous robot that tries to score as many points as possible in 212 minutes on an obstacle course.

The robot must pick up items, balance on a bridge and knock down pins as part of the course.

It is controlled through computer programming and can have no more than three motors.

“You get real nervous,” said 13-year-old Evan Schwartzmiller. “You’re in front of a lot of people. You just don’t want it to fail.”

This year’s theme is “Senior Solution” — where students step away from their robots and try to devise ways to solve problems faced by people 60 and older.

Each team is required to develop a solution that could help that person overcome a difficulty. The solutions can involve using an existing technology in a new way or inventing a new technology.

Each team will compete in four events: robot design, project presentation, core values and robot performance.

In addition to elementary and middle schools, LEGO League teams represent boys’ and girls’ clubs, churches, home-school groups and other youth organizations.

“You learn teamwork and how to work with others,” said 14-year-old Andrew McCracken. “When you find out your stuff works, that’s pretty exciting.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at