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FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a worldwide academic sports competition for young adults between the ages of 9 and 14 that utilizes teamwork, problem solving and engineering skills to build ideas using LEGO elements and moving parts. Each team has to build a robot and decide on a science project to present to judges following the season’s theme. The current theme for the season, which runs from September through mid December, is called Food Factor and was focused on food safety.
“Their job as a team is to design, build and program a LEGO robot without any directions,” says The Sharks coach Tami Hartley. She and her husband coach the four-member independent team who are the 2011 Michigan FLL State Champions.
“FIRST LEGO League is really fun because it’s my first year. I didn’t think it would be that fun, but I tried it out because I thought it sounded interesting and plus I really like LEGOS,” comments 10 year old Sharks member Abby Gorlitz.
“They have to do research and come up with a problem as a team, and then come up with a solution,” states Hartley.
The Sharks decided to concentrate on raw milk and the bacteria that may be carried on udders without a proper cleaning process. After researching the issue and visiting experts at different dairy farms around the area, the team was able to come up with a robotic solution and build a prototype of a cleaning robot called the Cow Wash.
“We figured if we made some sort of robotic machine that could clean the udders before they get milked then it would be more efficient,” says Gorlitz. “Farmers could be lazy and might not get around to clean the udder well enough; a robot would be programmed to do it perfect.”
The Cow Wash is designed to spray and sanitize the udders from the ground, before drying them with a special Norwex Microfiber towel designed to break down bacteria that are trapped in the cloth. The udders would then be dipped in iodine as a last step in disinfecting and dried again.
Other than presenting the Cow Wash to judges, the Sharks also presented their robot, which was fittingly named “Sharky.” The robot was placed on a 4x8 mat covered in various LEGO model missions (otherwise known as a competition field) and judged on how many it could accomplish. Sharky successfully completed 13 missions utilizing six different programs which gave the team a high score of 231. The team was also judged on their “design and programming skills,” adds Hartley.
“They have a field in their practice area and they practice with that field and they’ll go to the competition with the same field. There are some variations with the tables sometimes like being warped, so they really have to utilize the sensors on the robots in order to keep some consistency,” says Hartley.
Over 100 hours were spent building Sharky and creating the Cow Wash.