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Utah LEGO League group headed to World Festival

By Keith McCord | Posted - Mar. 31, 2011 at 6:18 p.m.


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SANDY -- Ever heard of the FIRST LEGO League? It's an interesting competition that involves playing with those little plastic bricks.

FIRST -- which stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology" -- is about having fun, solving problems, and perhaps making a huge contribution to society.

What is... FIRST LEGO League?
FIRST LEGO League (FLL) provides opportunities for students ages 9 to 14 (16 outside of the U.S. and Canada) to solve real-world challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface. FLL teams, guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, discover exciting career possibilities and, through the process, learn to make positive contributions to society. -FLL

KSL met with "Team Pi POD" in Sandy recently. This group of 10- to 13-year-olds won the Utah State Champion's Award and is now heading to the World Festival in St. Louis in April. This year's competition started out with more than 17,000 teams worldwide. Team Pi POD is one of 84 finalists.

FIRST LEGO League competitions have taken place for more than a decade. According to Adrianne Thygerson, Team Pi POD's coach, the contest was created by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway electric vehicle.

"So he wanted to start something that represented pretty much the format of a sporting event to get kids excited about science and technology," Thygerson said.

The contest has several components: The teams have to design and build robots from LEGO blocks, and the team is awarded points when the robots accomplish a series of tasks. Each competition also has a theme -- this year it's Biomedical Engineering.

The Utah team took on diabetes and built a large-scale model showing a device that would be inserted into a person's body to monitor blood glucose levels and send the data to a cell phone or computer.

"We have friends and family members with diabetes," says Caden Stewart, one of nine members of Team Pi POD. "And we thought it would be a lot easier for them, to have something implanted that would send their blood glucose to a phone or something like that."

That would eliminate the process of pinpricks to the finger to test a blood sample. They'll present their findings before a panel of judges at the world competition.

"As a coach, just talking with them about innovative ideas in biomedical engineering, I learned a ton," Thygerson said. "They would meet every week, engaged with great ideas; and the great thing is they had fun doing it. I think any parents who want to have their kids, or sees the potential in their kids of wanting to participate in this, it helps them see the potential now of what they can accomplish later on."

The world competition will be attended by people from medical companies and fortune 500 companies.

The Utah team is trying to raise about $14,000 so all members of the team can make the trip. They've come up with about half of that. Donations are welcome.

Email: kmccord@ksl.com

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Keith McCord

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