VIPER — Students at Viper Elementary are making a difference, not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of those around them. They are the award-winning Viper Rockin’ RoboHornets FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Robotics Team #7955. They are led by head coach Jacqueline Caudill, assistant coaches Julia Williams, and Ami Riley, and mentors Jack Caudill and Jody Caudill. The Viper Rockin’ RoboHornets are Sajen Robertson, Micah Morton, Melody Stidham, Macie Moore, Kayleigh Riley, Andy Riley, Ryan Whitaker, and Ashton Hall. The RoboHornets are in their 5th season.
Each season the FLL teams are presented with a theme in early September. This year’s theme was Animal Allies. Using this theme, teams had three months to prepare to compete in four categories: Robot Games, Robot Design, Research Project, and Core Values. In the Robot Games, teams had to build and program a robot to run autonomously on a game table to complete theme-related missions. It required precise programming using only LEGOs.
In Robot Design, teams kept an engineering journal during the season; they had to write an executive summary about their robot, and document their programming. These documents, along with the demonstration of the robot, were presented to a team of mechanical engineers. These judges were able to ask the team members anything they wanted to know about the robot, its design, its programming, and the reasoning behind it all. The RoboHornets were awarded the Robot Design Award at Regional Competition 2015.
In the Research Project, teams were presented with a real-world problem and asked to develop an innovative solution. In spite of being a robotics team, this project does not necessarily have to do with robots. This year’s problem was to improve the interaction between humans and animals based on a situation the team members had experienced. Through their research with veterinarians, the RoboHornets discovered that many dogs are administered an anti-anxiety medication prior to treatment for the safety of the animal and that of the veterinary staff. If not properly socialized, dogs can become aggressive or extremely fearful when exposed to unfamiliar animals and/or humans. To reduce the need for anti-anxiety meds and to increase the socialization of dogs, the RoboHornets developed an interactive dog park called CHIP – Celebrated Hound Interactive Playground. Because they are a robotics team, the RoboHornets didn’t settle for an ordinary dog park. They developed a dog park that you play like a video game. Patrons of CHIP will be able to connect an app on their phones to the equipment in the dog park and movement tracking technology in their dogs’ collars. They can earn points for interacting with their dogs at the dog park. Points can be turned in for prizes!
The RoboHornets brought the problem they had discovered to the attention of Perry County Judge Executive Scott Alexander and inquired as to the possibility of putting a dog park in Perry County. Not only is Judge Alexander in support of the work these kids are doing, he has committed to making this dog park a reality in the Perry County Park based on the RoboHornets’ design. While the interactive portion of this dog park is still in development, hopefully the basic dog park will be open for business within the next two years or so. The RoboHornets were awarded the Regional Project Award in 2014.
The fourth area of competition is Core Values. These are what FIRST considers to be the core, the foundation, of the entire program. The FLL Core Values include the following: We are a team; we do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors; we know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together; we honor the spirit of friendly competition; what we discover is more important than what we win; we share our experiences with others; we display gracious professionalism® and cooperation in everything we do; and we have FUN! These are all skills that will help these students become problem solvers, team members, communicators, and compromisers… all skills highly sought after by employers. Using these core values, the students are developing skills they will be able to apply to their lives now as well as when they are older. The RoboHornets earned the Regional Core Values Award with a perfect score in 2016.
The RoboHornets came in a close second in Regional Competition on December 10, 2016. The event sponsored by The Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky was held at East Perry Elementary. The top teams advanced to state competition. During regionals, the RoboHornets achieved perfect scores in both Project and Core Values. This was perhaps a predictor of the First Place Core Values Inspiration Award they earned during the Kentucky State FLL Competition on February 4, 2017. According to Firstlegoleague.org, “This award celebrates a team that is empowered by their FLL experience and displays extraordinary enthusiasm and spirit.”
Additional awards the RoboHornets have received include the Regional Rising Star Award, the Regional Inspiration Award, the Regional Leadership Award, the Regional Research Award, the Regional Operator’s Award, and last, but not least, the 3rd Place State Championship Award. While each team is only eligible to win one award per competition with the exception of the robot games award, the RoboHornets know that the work they do is more important than what they win.
Whether they are in the classroom, performing the team song they wrote and choreographed, (a parody of Queens’ “We Will Rock You”), presenting their research project idea in a Peanuts’ skit to judges, building and programming robots, or designing dog parks and apps, the RoboHornets find strength in what they have learned in FLL. They are becoming problem solvers, communicators, presenters, and leaders. They are an inspiration for our future.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.