Building blocks of robotics

Turning toy building blocks into a functioning robot is no easy task, but it’s one that a group of Hamilton County Girl Scouts have excelled at.

A couple of those girl scouts discussed their robotic creations and how they compete with others in a Lego League competition at Tuesday’s meeting of the Main Street USA Kiwanis Club in Webster City. The mother of the two visiting scouts, Molly Gallentine, said the idea itself is fairly simple.

“It’s the same Legos that you’ve played with or your kids or grandkids play with, but with these, they’ve transformed them and made them a bit more robotic,” Molly Gallentine said.

At FIRST, “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” Lego League competitions, the local Girl Scouts team has to prepare a Lego construct with robotic components, place a computer within the design, and program the robot to make it perform various tasks accurately. The competition between children of ages 9 to 13 years old is kept fresh with new themes each year. Molly Gallentine said this year’s is “nature’s fury and dealing with weather.”

While the idea is straightforward, the execution is far from easy. At competitions, the Scouts have just a couple minutes to complete tasks with their robot. Points are awarded not only on the design and functionality of the robot, but also for teamwork.

“The competitions really put a focus on working together as a team,” Molly Gallentine said.

The local Girl Scouts Lego League team has been recognized for exceptional work. The team won on robotic design at a regional competition in Cedar Falls and went on to win for research on their project at a statewide event. Molly Gallentine said there were about 40 teams at their regional competition, with about 15 other regional events hosted in Iowa during the first few weekends of December. The FIRST Lego League is an international organization with about 200,000 kids participating across the world.

Local league team members Morgan and Abby Gallentine showed the Kiwanis club how their robot works in a demonstration. They showed how they could program the wheeled robot to pass obstacles and pick up certain items and deliver those items to another location.

Typically, Molly Gallentine said the cost for the robot components of the competitions cost about $400. The group also buys a new mat to place their robots and other items on each year. Each mat is designed for the year’s theme and can cost about $150. The team is funded through the Girl Scouts of America.