CSU Hosts Inaugural Lego Robotic Competition

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Columbus State University will host 10 teams from around southwest Georgia in a Lego robotic competition 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12 at the Cunningham Center. The event, a FIRST Lego League regional competition, will involve children, ages 9-14, testing their skills in Lego-based research and robotics.

The event is free and open to the public and co-sponsored by Columbus State’s TSYS School of Computer Science, Home Depot and Chick-fil-A.

For Saturday’s competition, themed “Smart Move,” the 10-member teams will use Lego Mindstorms kits to design and build automated robots, and use software to program their robots to complete nine different autonomous missions in two and a half minutes. Teams will be judged on robot design and performance, plus the quality of their research and teamwork.

Three teams will advance from the competition at CSU to a 60-team “super regional” event in Warner Robbins. Georgia Tech will host a statewide final competition in February, followed by a FLL-sanctioned worldwide championship event in April at the Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center.

FLL competition coordinators and team coaches typically are educators and parents, said TSYS Senior Enterprise Architect and CSU business management major Frank Braski, who with his wife, Jeanette, is an organizer of the event.

“The rule is, the kids do the work,” Braski said.

The competition’s parent organization, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was established in 1989 to inspire children to get involved in science and engineering disciplines. The FLL formed in 1999 when FIRST joined Lego and introduced the Lego robotics set based on the classic yellow Lego robot, which had been popularized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to the league for 9-14-year-olds, a junior FLL circuit was established for ages 6-9.

Braski helped organize Columbus’ first FLL team in 2006. “Since then, we’ve grown to several area teams, and this is the first year for an event in Columbus.”

Braski said Saturday’s competition is strengthened by CSU student and faculty volunteers as referees and judges. Participating faculty include computer science professors Wayne Summers, Rodrigo Obando, Neal Rogers, Shamin Khan, David Woolbright, Jianhua Yang and Lydia Ray, plus English professors Barbara Hunt and Susan Hrach. “This is truly a multidisciplinary effort,” said Braski, referring to the literature teachers. “We also have great support from the Association of Computing Machinery and the student organization, Campus Nerds.”

Braski said the FLL effectively engages young students into advanced scientific activity that will prepare them to excel academically through high school and college. “From a practical perspective, the software used to program these robots is made by the same provider, National Instruments, that provides automation software for manufacturing plants around the world,” he said. “Plus, we have several other FIRST teams that these kids can ‘graduate’ into, once they get into high school.”

For more information, call the TSYS School of Computer Science at 706-568-2410 or e-mail braski_francis@ColumbusState.edu.