Teams compete to see who can build the best Lego robot

NORCROSS - There was no water in sight, but the robot still rolled along on its ocean odyssey. It attempted to release a trapped dolphin, deploy a submarine and clean up a cargo shipping accident. Above it, seven children crowded around to watch its progress. They had built the six-inch-long robot out of Legos.

To win a competition, the Greater Atlanta Christian School robotics team had only two minutes for the robot to simulate a series of oceanic tasks. They had fashioned the remote-controlled robot out of sensors, motors, gears and Lego building blocks.

Coaches Karen Gipson and Kimberly Frazier decided to start the GACS robotics team this year with their sons, who have always loved playing with Legos. They recruited some of their friends and started working on the robot every Wednesday after school.

"For me, it's been fascinating just watching how their little minds work and how creative they can be," Gipson said. "They can think outside of the box so much better than we can."

The GACS Spartanbots will be competing today at the junior level First Lego League qualifier tournament at Peachtree Ridge High School. Out of 20 teams, the top 12 will advance to the state competition in January at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The students were still perfecting their robot at their practice on Wednesday. When it wasn't running straight, they worked together on the kinks. In unison, they exclaimed "Yay!" when it ran almost perfectly.

"I feel like we want to make it even more precise, make it even better," said 9-year-old Andrew Frazier.

The Peachtree Ridge RoboLions won the regional First robotics competition, held at Gwinnett Center last school year. Valerie Strain, a parent mentor, sees hosting this tournament as a good fundraising and team-building opportunity.

Researchers at Brandeis University found the Lego robotics program promoted a greater interest and improvement in science, technology and math skills among participating students. They reported their findings in a survey for the First organization. The national program was founded in 1989 to promote technology careers and education.

"What it's about is making engineers the same kinds of heroes to look up to as sports heroes," Strain said.

The GACS team named its robot the "Newbie 7000" because it was their first year competing, and there were seven members on the team. The students each worked on different aspects of the project. Today, they will be delivering a five-minute presentation on the impact of hurricanes on coral reefs.

The students were enthusiastic about the new Lego robotics team. For the GACS Spartanbots, working out the problems of the robot was one of the most enjoyable parts.

"It's just a challenge," said Andrew Gipson, 11. "You can use creativity with almost no limits."

For more information, visit www.prhsrobotics.com or www.usfirst.org.