Hundreds of Ontario students flocked to Oshawa Saturday for the First Lego Leagueprovincial championships, where teams of students ages 9 to 14 squared off with the robots they built using the beloved blocks. The students also pitched solutions to tackle real-world problems affecting their communities.
“These children are the future,” said Mark Breadner, executive director of First Robotics Canada, which runs the league.
The Star sat down to talk with some these brilliant young minds. The answers have been edited for length.
Mateen Mirzaei, 14
Robot Rulers, Aurora
This is more advanced than the Lego most people know. What drew you to join your school team?
I built robots before the club, but not as advanced as this. You can connect motors to it and sensors and actually program it — like a real robot.
Your team got to speak with a NASA scientist while preparing for the competition. How was that experience?
Amazing. (A NASA robot) is not all that different than this. It proves that it’s possible. They’re just making a robot that’s going to space and it’s more accurate. But ours is a toy. It’s not as accurate as you want it to be. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Your team programmed your robot to catapult a ball into a net. If you could program it to do anything around the house, it would be?
Probably to make me food.
Mary Ditta, 13
Cummer Valley Viperbots, Toronto
Your team designed an app to help people with dyslexia read. How did you decide your topic?
It’s a problem that affects a lot of people in our community. There are a couple of people at our school who know people who suffer from dyslexia. We heard their stories.
Your app enables users to convert two-dimensional text into 3D. Why did you include that feature?
Studies show people with dyslexia can read 3D text because of the shadows. We take our Smartphones with us everywhere anyway, so they can just take the phone and scan it on the spot.
Are people surprised an app tackling such a serious topic came from a team of middle-school students?
We might be young but we have really great innovative ideas, and I hope we can take these ideas to really help people one day.
Madeleine Kennedy, 12
The Musical Misconceptionists, Toronto
This is your first year with your school’s robotics team. What made you want to join?
There was an open house at our school and I saw the team perform. I’m interested in technology so the robot was really cool. Last year, I think 70 people tried out but only 10 made it.
Is this a field you want to pursue as a career?
It would be a pretty great job to make games and apps. I really like technology. It’s really interesting and so simple when you understand what’s happening.
Your team also made a song to tackle some of the hysteria around Ebola. How did you choose the topic?
We thought Ebola was a serious issue and there were so many misconceptions about it, so we wanted people to make people aware and not afraid. People were saying our music teacher had Ebola. It wasn’t true, and we wanted to end these misconceptions.
Natasha Wells, 14
Rowena Hobbs, 15
Lego da Vincis, Niagara
Teams are building and programming robots to perform a bunch of different tasks. How much work goes into this?
Rowena: Normally, we meet two times a week for four hours or so. But the last month we’ve been meeting as much as possible.
What do you enjoy most about robotics?
Natasha: It’s this really cool next-step thing. You can do things that before people had to do by hand. It’s almost movie like.
Does your robot have a name?
Natasha: EV3 is the brick (computer) we use so we thought we’d be smart and name him Edward Victorious the Third.