One was immediately conscious of the buzz and level of activity in Edinburgh University’s Centre for Informatics on Saturday 11th January. This was where the Scottish Regional 2013 – 14 Final of the First Lego League was already underway after a gap of 3 years. Seven teams assisted by their teachers and mentors, with parents and families in support, were making final adjustments to their Lego Mindstorm robots, before pitting against each other in the opening heats of the knockout competition.
The robots had been pre-programmed to perform a selected range of challenges on a previously designated table layout reflecting the day’s theme “Nature’s Fury”. Challenges associated damage a storm or earthquake can cause to buildings, power supplies, roads and other essential supplies or challenges reflecting the distribution of aid to a disaster struck area. The robot could knock over tree branches, relocates a building, release a plane to travel down a wire to land on to a runway, move an ambulance to meet the plane on the runway or raise a sign announcing area to be evacuated. Scores for the challenges were either based on “Yes” or “No” or points awarded for the level of success a challenge achieved such as the coloured area of the runway the plane reached.  Or the number of members of a rescued family that had been moved to an area on the table where bottled water was available. If the Tsunami had be one of the challenges chosen, did all three did all three waves reach the designated spot?
Soon the time came to get the first heat of the day started under the watchful eye of the judges with their score sheets at the ready. To a resounding chorus of “Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Lego!”  from the expectant spectators, two teams entered the fray on side by side tables on the whistle starting the clock counting down two minutes, thirty second in which the robots had to perform the tasks previously selected. Teams worked with great urgency, resetting their robot’s programme at the end of each task. Or on occasion having to rescue their robot when things did not quite go as programmed.
After the whistle signalling time’s up, there was the wait for the judges to finalise the scores for each team with the results being posted on a big screen. Joy for some less so for others. Each of the seven teams’ robots participated in three rounds with the best score contributing to their Robot Game ranking.
While the three rounds were under way, other judges were chatting to each team about their robot’s construction.  Was the construction sound and not fault prone? How efficient was the robot? How was the quality of the robot’s programme and had it been compiled to maximise efficiency of operation? How well did the robot navigate using mechanical feedback and that from sensors? And crucially did the team appreciate the importance of testing after each design change, structural or progamme, to continuously improve the robot’s operating ability.
The Regional event’s theme “Nature’s Fury” was much more to the fore in the presentation each team had to make looking at natural disasters, their implications and propose ways in which their effects could be mitigated. Projects included the serious consequences of flooding in India, effective temporary shelter in an earthquake zone such as San Francisco, and landsides on the A83 Rest and Be Thankful road such that the road to remained open. Perhaps the most imaginative solution to a natural disaster was constructing a wall round a volcano to channel the molten lava into the sea demonstrated by a beautifully constructed model of a volcano and surrounding wall. How did the teams select their particular problem and how was information gained to enable potential solutions to be developed?  Was this a team effort? Would it improve the quality of life for those affected and was the proposed solution financially viable?  Was the presentation effective in getting over a team’s understanding and ideas?
Into the afternoon session two teams Leith Primary School and the Calderwood Clan from Calderwood Primary School fought out the final of the knockout competition in front of the audience of their helpers and supporters. “Five, Four, Three, Two, One. Lego!” saw two robots trying to maximise the score through the pre-programmed choice of tasks with each team’s members striving to ensure a successful result in 2.5 minutes.  After an anxious few minutes the scores were posted showing the Calderwood Clan were the winners and presented with a trophy.
Then while each team member was being presented with a medal, the judges were is session to decide the final overall outcome, focusing on how teams had worked together, respecting each other, sharing tasks and being prepared consider each team members ideas.
The much-awaited announcement saw the all-girls Team Robot from St Kertigen’s Academy, declared runner-ups, with their project being assessed as the best of the day. The expectant hush gave way to great cheers with The Calderwood Clan (pictured) being announced winners of the Scottish Regional FLL event and the British Computer Society prize to help fund their trip to the National FLL Final in Loughborough.
That this proved to be a very successful day owed much to Lambda Jam’s Laura Meikle’s tireless efforts in setting up the event, gaining financial sponsorship from the British Computer Society, Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (a partnership between Universities of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier and Heriot-Watt), Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group and CloudSoft.  The IET, CAS Scotland, ScotlandIS and Clearweb assisted in publicising.  And last but not least Edinburgh University’s Schools of Informatics provided the premises to run this FLL Regional event. Laura also ‘recruited’ those willing to be judges and gained willing support from postgraduate and undergraduates to man the tables, post the scores and generally ensuring everything ran smoothly throughout the day.
To those teams, Team Belmont, JGHS, Eastwood High School and Artronix well done for being worthy competitors. Perhaps next year there will be a more successful outcome. Though the word is that there could well be a larger numbers of teams competing to reach the UK National Final in 2015.
Ron McMurtrie,
IET Scotland Schools Liaison Officer

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Things were certainly dynamic at Dynamic Earth on Saturday 29th November for the Edinburgh First Lego League Regional final. From the off there was a real buzz about with 10 teams of inventive kids – along with their supportive coaches and families – all raring to go. Before the formal proceedings got underway, advantage was taken by the teams to do some last minute adjustments to their Lego Mindstorms robots; they were all gearing up for the first of their three robot games on this year's competition table. The FLL Challenge this year was themed around “World Class Learning Unleashed”. The focus was on how people gather knowledge and learn new skills in the 21st Century. All of the robot missions were based around this and were involved Opening Doors, Project Based Learning, Apprenticeship, Search Engine, Sport, Robotics Competition, Using the Right Senses, Remote Communication and Learning, Thinking outside the Box, Cloud Access, Engagement and Adapting to Changing Conditions. Each challenge being a constructed out of Lego such that a robot’s action caused something to happen. Remember the challenges teams faced last season, this year's appeared to be more demanding to get the required results. Once again the now familiar countdown “Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Lego!” rang out as the first two teams set their robot going to complete as many pre-selected challenges as possible. This sometimes required a team to rapidly make changes to their robot so that it could action a specific challenge. On occasions when a robot failed for whatever reason, it was “rescued” and set off again. With two boards side by side, there was real tension in the air as the teams’ supporters cheered each successful mission. All too quickly it seemed the whistle signalled the end of the allotted time two minutes, thirty seconds. “Opening the Door” proved relatively easy for all the robots, as did “Adapting to Changing Conditions” with the robot going on to successfully complete “Engagement”. Several of the other missions did tend to tax programming skills such as operating the “Search Engine Slider”, then picking up the loop of the correct colour and getting the robot to return to the Base. Probably the most dramatic mission was to score a goal in the “Sports Challenge”. Robots had to be programmed to “throw” a ball over a wall and end up in the goal’s net. The main problem was getting a robot in the right position such that on “throwing” the ball it cleared the wall and landed in the goal net. Every successful goal was greeted with a great cheer. After the whistle signalling time’s up, there was the anxious wait for the judges to finalise the scores for each team with the results being posted on a big screen. Joy for some, less so for others. Each of the ten teams’ robots participated in three rounds with the best score contributing to their Robot Game ranking. An equally important part of the overall Challenge is the informal discussion with each team about their experiences in constructing their robot. Did they decide a role for each team member? Was it all their own ideas in the construction of their robot or did they seek advice? Was their robot’s construction robust? How much trial and error was there before they were satisfied with the robot’s programming? Did they consider incorporating any of the available sensors, eg, Light, Colour, Touch or Gyro/Angle? Invariably for several teams, the decision was after trying some out, not to use any sensors. How did the team overcome any setbacks when their robot did not perform as expected? It was most encouraging to learn despite periods of frustration, the teams battled on; a very good positive demonstration of effective team working and problem solving. The third element of the Challenge was coming up with a proposal on World Class Learning. For this element each team had to make a short formal presentation as to how they would improve a specific learning experience. Prewired, from the University of Edinburgh’s Coding Club, had put together a programme to assist adults in developing simple computing skills; a proposal that was adjudged to be the best of solution presented on the day. Into the afternoon, four teams who had achieved highest scores in the three morning Robot Game rounds competed in two semi-finals out of which Odyssey from St Kertigen’s Academy went against The Burgh Bears from Newburgh Primary School in the final of the knockout competition in front of the audience of their helpers and supporters. “Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Lego!” saw two robots yet again trying to maximise the score through the pre-programmed choice of tasks with each team’s members striving to ensure a successful result in 2.5 minutes. After the final whistle and another anxious few minutes, the scores were posted showing The Burgh Bears were winners and presented with a trophy. The Burgh Bears were also crowned Champions of the overall competition and will now compete in the National Final at Loughborough University They will be joined by OGEL (from Hamilton Grammar) and Hotwire Malfunction (from Cults Academy, Aberdeen), the champions from the Glasgow and Aberdeen Regional events. A strong representation from Scotland. The winning team from the National Final will go forward to the International Final in the USA. The pressure will be on the UK winners to hold on to the World Championship title as this prestigious honour has gone to UK teams in 2013 and 2014! The three very successful Scottish regional finals attracted even more interest than last season. This owed much to Lambda Jam’s Laura Meikle's tireless efforts in setting up these events, gaining financial support from the British Computer Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Heriot-Watt University and CloudSoft Corporation, and securing the donation of the three event venues, namely the Glasgow Science Centre, the Statrosphere Science Centre in Aberdeen and Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. This year Lambda Jam partnered up with the Young Academy of Scotland – an affiliate of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Together they not only grew the competition but broadened the participation to schools with few resources. They also established a network of engineers who assisted the teams this year. The IET and CAS Scotland helped in publicising the events. The events rely on many volunteers to judge, man the tables, post the scores and generally ensure everything runs smoothly throughout the day; all events were well supported by an army of enthusiastic people not only willingly to give of their time but help spread the love of science and technology amongst the younger generation. To the teams competing in Edinburgh, The Bees from Edinburgh’s Firrhill High School, Craigmount Cubes, Leith Primary, Juniper Green Roboteers, Lego-Tee, Zwired, Gaellean Eachian, Odyssey and George Watson’s College, and those participating in Aberdeen and Glasgow, well done for being worthy competitors. Perhaps next year through being able drawn on this year’s experience, 2015 will see a more successful outcome. Given this year there was a waiting list of 30 teams, competition to take part in the 2015 Regional events could be fierce.
Posted by Ronald McMurtrie on Dec 30, 2014 10:57 am GMT