ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Jan. 15, 2013) -- More than 180 students from across the state competed in the second annual FIRST LEGO League Challenge at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, or ATEC, headquarters here, Jan. 5.

Sixteen teams competed for the top six positions to advance to the Jan. 19 championship at University of Maryland Baltimore County, or UMBC.

ATEC, UMBC and Team APG partnered to organize the event. FIRST LEGO League, or FLL, is a LEGO robotics program for 6-to-14-year olds designed to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, while teaching employment and life skills.

FIRST stands for: 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. Genaro Dellarocco commended the students for their enthusiasm, perseverance and teamwork.

"What you are doing today, learning about technology, is something that our Army is looking for. We need mathematicians, scientists, logisticians, the whole nine yards," Dellaroco said. "There are many ways to serve our country. Part of what you are doing today is serving our country by learning about science, technology engineering and math."

After the opening ceremony, teams presented a research project to judges. Every September FLL releases a real-world scientific challenge. This year's challenge was to find ways to improve the quality of life for senior citizens.

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.

"The main goal today is for the children to have fun, get them interested in STEM," said Christina Bryant, ATEC recruitment and outreach program coordinator. "There is no negativity, only positive reinforcement. They all worked really hard on their projects."

FLL Manor View Brainiacs team Coach Lacey Wallace of Anne Arundel County said their team spent a significant amount of time researching problems that senior citizens encounter on a daily basis. The team then decided to create a product that will help senior citizens combat vertigo.

"FLL teaches students inquiry and problem solving skills," Wallace said. "Coaches are learning along with the children. There are not always direct answers to problems. FLL teaches the value of persevering to find an answer."

Bethany Jackson, a fifth grader from the Robotics Engineers team, said she enjoyed hearing feedback from the judges. Her team came up with the idea of a "Flexi-Reader," a magnifying device that helps low-vision seniors read.

"I liked expressing myself and sharing our ideas with the judges," she said. "It was really cool getting opinions from scientists and engineers."

The event also included displays and demonstrations from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

For more information about FLL, visit www.firstlegoleague.org.


Overall Champion Award -- Robotic Engineers
Project Award -- Gatorbots 2
Robot Design Award -- Robo Squad
Core Values Award -- Dragonbots
Judges Award -- Gatorbots 1
Robot Performance Award -- Robo Squad