ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Friendly competition, learning, teamwork and fun were emphasized during the third annual FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Challenge at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command headquarters Jan. 18.

More than 300 students from 18 teams from across the state competed for the top six positions to advance to the Feb. 1 state championship that will be held at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. ATEC, UMBC and Team APG partnered to organize the event. More than 60 volunteers from the APG workforce volunteered to make the event a success.

FLL is a LEGO robotics program for 6 - 14-year-olds designed to inspire students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, while teaching employment and life skills. FIRST is an acronym -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Children in FLL are challenged to use their creativity to design a solution or modify an existing solution, to solve a real-world problem.

During the opening ceremony, ATEC Commander Maj. Gen. Peter D. Utley commended the participating students for their enthusiasm and teamwork. Utley said hosting the event at ATEC was a natural fit because it exposes the students to APG and the Army.

"Employees of this command very much enjoy the opportunity to volunteer and share their experience with America's youth," he said. "We want to continue to support events like this in the future."

In the morning, teams presented their research project to judges. Every September, FLL releases a real-life scientific challenge. This year's challenge was called "Nature's Fury."

Teams were tasked to choose a natural disaster and come up with a solution to help a community prepare, stay safe or rebuild after a natural disaster occurs.

During the Core Values component of the competition, teams were judged on how well they work together and their professionalism. During this challenge, teams were asked to choose a card that contained a word and perform an impromptu skit based on that word.

"Gracious professionalism is probably the most important value that we are trying to instill upon these kids," said the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Drew Wilkerson, who served as the event's head judge. "The problems that we face in today's society require multi-tasking and people from different backgrounds working together."

Wilkerson added that it is important that the Army supports activities like FLL and similar activities to inspire America's next generation of STEM professionals.

"It is a matter of national security," he said. "We have to be on the cutting edge of science and technology to protect our way of life."

In the afternoon, teams were tasked to perform 15 missions in 2.5 minutes on a themed playing field using an autonomous robot built by computer-aided design.

"Children do sports to keep their bodies active, and they do FIRST LEGO League to keep their minds active," said the Director of Program Integration at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) Suzanne Milchling at the competition.

Robot Brothers' coach Julie Henn from Perry Hall said the experience provided by FIRST LEGO League is invaluable. She said teams are encouraged to talk to professionals in the STEM fields to conduct research for their projects. This year, their team visited the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to learn about their organization's emergency operation center.

"FIRST LEGO League gives students the extra attention they don't get in class," she said. "These are kids that are highly motivated and highly curious. FIRST LEGO League gives them the chance to really go beyond the classroom learning, get real world experience. Nothing you can learn in the classroom to replace talking to professionals about the challenges they face."

Joshua Dobbyn from the Lare Flare B'Dinglebots team said he enjoyed the fun of competing with his peers.

"I like FIRST LEGO League, it teaches you how to work as a team while having fun," he said.

Overall Champions
Robo Chickens
Robot Performance Award:
Robot Brothers
Project Award:
Block Busters
Robot Design Award:
Robot Brothers
Core Values:
Lego Tornadoes
Lare Flaire B'Dinglebots
The four teams that were the top well rounded teams in all 4 areas (Robot, Project, Core Values, and Performance) also advanced to the state finals. The teams that advanced to the states are:
Robo Chickens
Robo Squirrels
Disaster Masters
Robot Brothers