Robotics tournament turns into water project for Naperville team

 
 
Updated 1/12/2018 6:13 PM
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  • Park Addition Lego League team members Sam Aldrich, Sammy Davies and Katie Meyer explain obstacles on the board their robot will use to accomplish challenges Sunday during a state First Lego League competition in Elgin. See them in action at dailyherald.com/video.

      Park Addition Lego League team members Sam Aldrich, Sammy Davies and Katie Meyer explain obstacles on the board their robot will use to accomplish challenges Sunday during a state First Lego League competition in Elgin. See them in action at dailyherald.com/video. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Sam Aldrich and Connor Shipley, of a Naperville robotics club called Park Addition Lego League, get the team's robot ready to run the course during a practice Wednesday for a state competition Sunday in Elgin.

      Sam Aldrich and Connor Shipley, of a Naperville robotics club called Park Addition Lego League, get the team's robot ready to run the course during a practice Wednesday for a state competition Sunday in Elgin. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Obstacles on the First Lego League course for use in a state competition Sunday in Elgin all are based on the theme of hydrodynamics, of the science of the sourcing, transportation, use and disposal of water.

      Obstacles on the First Lego League course for use in a state competition Sunday in Elgin all are based on the theme of hydrodynamics, of the science of the sourcing, transportation, use and disposal of water. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

The Lego robot built by a team of junior high students from Naperville will traverse an obstacle board Sunday during a state competition, trying to do water-related tasks such as turning on a fountain or flushing a toilet.

Meanwhile, the water safety information pamphlet the team designed, as part of a challenge to solve a problem within the human water cycle, will be distributed in Karachi, Pakistan, as sales people there explain why water filters are necessary.

It's been a wide-ranging project for the members of the Park Addition Lego League, a club in its second year competing in the First Lego League series involving robots built with Legos and programmed with computer software.

Team members Sam Aldrich, Sammy Davies, Katie Meyer, Beric Moeller and Connor Shipley have video chatted with a Pakistani water filtration saleswoman, learned about cultural norms and even experienced a language -- Urdu -- that's based on a different alphabet and is read from right to left.

"We wanted to collaborate to help people," Connor said.

The team also spent five months coding a robot to accomplish eight challenges within a 2 minute and 30 second span.

By punching buttons on the robot, team members on Sunday at Elgin Community College will tell the machine which segments of code to run to pull off each task, scoring points for accuracy and enthusiasm along the way. The competition is one of two state tournaments in Illinois that bring together coding, competition and cooperation.

"It's really about things like working together as a team, solving problems together," said Sven Davies, Sammy's dad and one of the coaches. "The coaches aren't expected to know everything."

Members of the Park Addition Lego League team in Naperville will use this robot to accomplish challenges Sunday on an obstacle board during a state competition for First Lego League in Elgin.
  Members of the Park Addition Lego League team in Naperville will use this robot to accomplish challenges Sunday on an obstacle board during a state competition for First Lego League in Elgin. - Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Building the robot came first, and that was Sam's favorite part. Coding it came second, Connor's specialty.

"You can always change something or make something better," he said. "The programs are never perfect."

Then it came time to of identify a project. Each year's First Lego League competition comes with a theme, which carries through the obstacle board and project teams are required to find. This year's theme is hydrodynamics, or the science of the sourcing, transportation, use and disposal of water.

Team members wanted to help with a water issue in a third-world country, Davies said, but struggled to find a project until they made a connection through a friend of Connor's father.

Franklin Woodland of Chicago is president of Global Impact Fund, a nonprofit that invests in businesses such as Pristine One, which sells water filtered by reverse osmosis to residents in Karachi.

Woodland said water in Karachi often is contaminated with parasites and bacteria, which can cause illnesses including cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and E. coli.

Pristine One salespeople, usually Pakistani women, explain the symptoms of these diseases and the benefits of drinking clean water.

Park Addition Lego League team members, Sam Aldrich, Connor Shipley, Beric Moeller, Sammy Davies and Katie Meyer prepare to compete in a state First Lego League robotics tournament Sunday in Elgin.
  Park Addition Lego League team members, Sam Aldrich, Connor Shipley, Beric Moeller, Sammy Davies and Katie Meyer prepare to compete in a state First Lego League robotics tournament Sunday in Elgin. - Mark Black | Staff Photographer

The students created a new brochure the saleswomen can use to explain the risks of drinking tap water and the benefits of buying filtered water through Pristine One. They had it translated into Urdu and chose images Pakistanis would relate to, such as a woman wearing a head scarf drinking a glass of water.

"The problem that we were facing was the lack of education," Katie said. "Because there was already an engineering solution to clean the water."

The students' brochure already has been used in Pakistan by workers such as Kehkashan Rasheed, the saleswoman with whom they chatted through a translator in a 6:30 a.m. video call. The project board the team will present Sunday has pictures to prove it, showing the brochure in Rasheed's hands as she met with a client. Team members say they've learned how fortunate they are to have safe drinking water and how their actions can make a difference for others who do not.

"We almost didn't recognize our kids," Davies said, "when they were interested in doing something with a social impact."

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