The kids on the Panther Power robotics team at Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., have developed a new tool that is helping local first responders.
The tool, which the youngsters on the FIRST Lego League team call the Stickler for Safety, SOS, is an adaptation of a tool police and firefighters use when responding to storms and flooding.
The kids’ version is made of sturdy lightweight plastic and can be unfolded to four feet in length. It has bright blue, orange and yellow markings to help safety forces gauge water depth and can be used to check for obstructions and find open manholes.
First responders use a wooden tool now, which cannot be folded and is susceptible to mold.
The SOS was the students’ project under FLL’s 2013-14 competition, which focused on “Nature’s Fury.” It gained the notice of judges at a national FLL tournament at Legoland in California, and the team was awarded second place in the Innovative Solutions category.
Coach Alys Tyler said the team finished second in the New Jersey FLL tournament earlier this year and earned an invitation to the FLL North American Open Championship in Carlsbad, Calif., May 16-18.
The team was formed in 2008, and some of its members have gone on to compete at the next level, FIRST Robotics, and mentor current students, Tyler said.
“They are learning science, technology, research,” Tyler, she told Catholic News Service after returning from California. “They’re learning how to work as a team. This is real world experience for them.”
FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — has been billed as sport for the brain. Students from first through 12th grades compete at different levels while developing skills in engineering, problem solving, computer programing and communication.
The atmosphere at tournaments is much like a sporting event, with cheering sections and chest bumps. Underlying the competitions is the spirit of “gracious professionalism” and cooperation.
Once Panther Power team members knew they were going to California, they immediately set out to raise funds to finance the trip. The parish, Our Lady of Peace, got behind the team and help ensure the trip would happen, Tyler said.
As for the SOS, Tyler said the students have secured a provisional patent for it and are talking about raising the money to secure their own patent, which they could then sell to a developer. Proceeds would support the team into the future.
A second team from a Catholic school — John Paul II Catholic School in Houston — also competed in the California tournament.
Coach Manny Cano said his team, the RoboKids, enjoyed the experience of competing with the best teams in the country and learned about the effort needed to become a champion. Much of what the students learned was talking with members of other teams while waiting in line for rides at the amusement park.
And team members have learned skills that will transfer well into life, Cano said.
“They’ve learned so much about a whole variety of things,” he told CNS. “It’s really fantastic. They’ve learned about teamwork. They’ve learned how to manage conflicts.”