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Lego competition trains young engineers on helping seniors

Almost 200 elementary and middle school students and 13 teams from across Greater Victoria gathered at the University of Victoria

Almost 200 elementary and middle school students and 13 teams from across Greater Victoria gathered at the University of Victoria for a competition aimed at helping seniors overcome daily challenges.

Students were charged with the challenge of creating, designing, and programming a Lego robot that can could scan and locate the correct medicine, move furniture, garden, fixing a broken chair and walk a service dog.

“(They) look at the way robots or technology can enhance the lives of senior citizens,” said event co-ordinator and UVic PhD student Michael Hammond-Todd. “It is an inquiry-driven process where students are looking for real solutions for real-world problems.”

Young competitors brought their existing Lego robots and programed them on the spot for a battery of tests, all which represent challenges seniors face in their daily lives.

“Vancouver Island has a very active community of educators and students interested in robots and technology. The programs are designed to inspire students in the fields of science, technology, and engineering,” Hammond-Todd said.

“(This) is providing an opportunity to talk to people outside of their generation and peer group and think about solutions they may work on as secondary or post secondary students.”

All robots were created from a standard Lego Mindstorms NXT kit, but modified to tackle different solutions to the problems. Students use the included software to program commands, including how many seconds to move, degree of motion and rotation and even simple voice commands.

The event, hosted by faculties of eduction and engineering, was meant to get more kids interested in science and math, and acted as the Vancouver Island First Lego League regional competition.

“How fitting that the challenge theme for the first Lego league event happening on the UVic campus is ‘senior solutions’— solving problems faced by seniors as they age,” said Holly Tuokko, director of UVic’s Centre on Aging,

Building Lego robots was a hit with 11-year-old Chris Burrows, who was excited for the opportunity to compete at UVic.

“I think this is really fun, a lot of people who like Lego and robot stuff would really like it,” he said. “When I grow up I want to be a Lego designer.”

Burrows started playing with Lego two years ago and is one of the founding members of Team Legobotics, a team of three that hope to advance to the provincials in Vancouver in January.

“I like programming and robotics,” he said. “You can get a lot of freedom in what you build.”



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