This week, a small group of what may be Rutland County’s future engineers will fly out west to test their problem-solving, physics and current-events knowledge against 70 teams from around the world.

The Rutland Robo-Rattlers robotics club placed second and the Robo-Rhinos placed third in the FIRST Lego League robotics state competition at Norwich University in December — the Rhinos’ first competition — and will be bringing some Vermont ingenuity to the Legoland International Invitational tournament, May 17 — 19 in San Diego, California.

The FIRST Lego League is an international robotics program for students age 9 to 14 to learn, build, present and compete in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focused program.

The name of the game is Lego robots, and this year’s theme is Space.

“They’ve got two minutes and 30 seconds to do as much as possible,” said Rutland Area Robotics coach Scott McCalla.

Each of the teams began preparing for their challenge in August, having been tasked with building a robot that can complete as many tasks as it can in a short period of time, from moving objects and placing them in boxes to releasing a hammer that triggers a launching mechanism, sending a shuttle up a shaft.

The robots don’t have to be built to certain specifications, but they can be only so big and must be powered by a small engine called a Brick, using software to plan a course.

“We use some fairly complex programming to determine what angle the robot is at, so we can make really precise turns,” Emelia said.

The key, the Rattlers agreed, was to create a multi-tasking robot that could complete several activities during a single mission.

After completely tearing apart their model more than halfway through their months of preparation, the Rattlers created their second “Python” robot, capable of activating a lever that released a sledgehammer-type arm. It was equipped with different hooks for its various attachments, and moved blue targets that represented meteors around the table-top field at a precise velocity.

The Rhinos created Spiker MK 2, a wheeled robot that picks up objects and places them in different containers, races over gates and moves small coins from holding bins.

Spiker MK 1 died earlier this year, Robo-Rhino team member Royal Wood said.

The teams must complete three components of the competition: the robot challenge, an on-the-spot core values test, and a world problem-solving presentation.

For the Robo-Rattlers, team member Emelia McCalla said they were targeting the high levels of radiation experienced by astronauts while in space.

“Right now, we’re doing nutrition,” McCalla said. “When they’re getting all of this radiation, it makes them really sick. So, we have figured out certain nutrients will help protect you against radiation.”

McCalla and her teammates found a lot of the vitamins and compounds in dark, leafy greens, the antioxidants in berries, and resistant starch in potatoes helped to aid ailing astronauts.

Meanwhile, the Robo-Rhinos were keeping their horns to the grindstone researching how to implement global-positioning satellites for space travel.

“If you were traveling to Mars, you would be outside of our atmosphere. ... What would you do to navigate?” Scott McCalla said.

Emelia McCalla said the team decided to flip the beams of light off of pulsars, a type of star, to generate intergalactic space travel trackers.

Finally, the core values challenge is a quick-thinking, on-the-spot challenge posed to each of the teams, who then have several minutes to come up with a collective solution.

“We had these beads that we had to arrange in a way that explained what our team was about,” Emelia said of a previous core challenge. “It sounds simple, but it’s a very complicated series of steps to make sure your teamwork comes through.”

The Robo-Rattlers got their start six years ago after a circuitry camp over the summer left the students and parents wanting more.

“I don’t think we knew what we were getting into,” Emelia McCalla said.


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