Robotics team places second in state competition

The Couch Botatoes, a robotics team from Urbana and Frederick, places second in the First Lego League state championships in April. Team members pictured, from left: Vansh Kumar, Nainitha Chalamalasetty, Aditi Senthilkumar, Abhi Senthilkumar (high school youth mentor), Praneel Pandit and Mihir Kumar.

Couch Botatoes is a robotics team from Urbana and Frederick that competed in the Maryland First Lego League state championship in April. They were sponsored in part by Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), Gaithersburg. The team placed second among 21 teams in the synchronous group for the number of points they earned in the robot game competition. In addition, they placed second (championship finalists) overall as a result of their combined scores in the robot design, innovation project, robot game and core values sections.

First Lego League is built around theme-based challenges to engage children ages 9 to 16 in research, problem solving, coding and engineering. The challenge has four parts — robot competition, robot design evaluation, innovation project and demonstration of how FLL core values have guided the team through the season.

The Couch Botatoes team, consisting of five Urbana area elementary and middle school STEM enthusiasts, worked for nine months on this year’s RePlay challenge. They were mentored by Urbana High School student Abhi Senthilkumar and two parent coaches, Senthil Ramaswamy and Sesha Jupudi.

This year, the team had specific learning goals they set out to accomplish. Their base robot had a compact design with a clever adapter to quickly add and remove attachments that could accomplish a variety of pre-determined missions. Using color sensors, they were able to program their robot to reach the target locations on the game map and accomplish a variety of tasks to earn points. The team also developed attachments with built-in gear boxes to lift loads and drop blocks at various locations as dictated by the mission requirements. In the competition, the team scored the second highest number of points in their division (Group 2, Synchronous) and consequently earned second place in the robot game section.

The theme for the innovation project was to figure out how to get people to be more active. The team researched the various reasons why people have gotten progressively less active over the past several decades. They identified three key reasons to focus on: popularity of video games, inability to coordinate schedules with friends for outdoor play, and absence of play areas in crowded cities. Through a survey of over 220 participants of various ages and areas, the team targeted a specific problem that was most applicable to their age group: video games.

The alternates available today that focus on exercise and video games (for example, virtual or augmented reality games on stationary bikes) cannot replace the variety and vastness of the virtual worlds that kids play in. They asked, “How can we continue to play our games while staying active?” Their solution was to incentivize activity with in-game currency that kids could use in the video games of their choice. They proposed to do this through an app-based portal that would track their activity and that of their friends (measured through devices such as a Fitbit) and convert it into in-game currency to be used during gaming. The app would have functions that enable friendly competition (via leaderboards) and social features, including messaging and easy viewing of peoples’ availability for outdoor activity.

The team put a simple overview of their app idea together and shared their concept and research with other teams, the Urbana community and representatives from United Healthcare, Electronic Arts, researchers and family and friends. Encouraged by positive feedback from industry professionals, the team hopes to implement the app in the summer and develop a working prototype.

The team thanks the Maryland FLL organizers and volunteers for making the season possible in the challenging pandemic situation and are looking forward to the next season and supporting other teams in the area that may form as they continue to share their experience with the community. For more information, visit http://www.firstlego league.org.

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