Members of the Green Mountain Gears gather round their hard earned design award trophy at the regional First Lego League (FLL) Championship. L - R: Damon Strempek, Luke Fitzgerald, Vihit Gupta, Coach Paul Fitzgerald, Ethan Behr, Kenny Chamberlain, Myles Peterson and Andrew Kim.

Gears Grab Design Award at Regional Competition

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Friday January 09, 2015

South Burlington’s Green Mountain Gears (GMG) leaped to the podium with a profound sense of accomplishment to accept the “Mechanical Design Award” at the New Hampshire/ Vermont Regional First Lego League (FLL) Championship this past December. Fifty-one teams of kids, grades 3-8, were invited to participate in the championship from the pool of nearly 200 teams across the region. The award recognized the team’s robot design, which resulted from countless prototypes in an iterative process to refine and improve their robot. Only three teams received awards for their robot design.

The season began in August when work on their project started. The team was tasked with finding ways to improve education. The team concluded that video games could be an excellent way to learn because it engaged many different senses and often told a compelling story. After deliberating, the team decided that an anti-bullying video game had the potential to make the world a better place. The team researched ways to stop bullying and learned that most experts believe that bullying can be reduced when bystanders intervene to support a target. The team wrote a game where the main character tells jokes to bystanders to convert them to allies that work together to protect targets. The team wrote their game in GameMaker and used Anime Studio for animations and Audacity for sound effects.
The team presented their game at the Mini-Maker Faire at Shelburne Farms on October 3 and 4, this fall. More than 41 people visited their booth and played their game. Many players felt that the concept was brilliant and they agreed that video games were an excellent way to learn and that bullying was an excellent thing to learn to stop. Following the Faire, the team shifted their focus to the robot design.

The team used a backwards design to build their robot. This process began when the team selected specific tasks to accomplish on the robot game board. The team then divided into smaller groups to build solutions to solve the tasks. Andrew Kim (Tuttle Middle School) constructed elements of the cage, which surrounded the eve smart brick. Ethan Behr (Mater Christi) constructed a center-mounted, vertical motor array that integrated the ultra-sonic sensors and the light sensor. Myles Peterson (Hinesburg Community School) took the lead on the soccer kicker, which was placed on top of the robot so that its height could add energy to the soccer ball they kicked into a net. Damon Strempek developed several prototype, elastic based, lassos for the remote learning task. Vihit Gupta sculpted a Lego face for the apprenticeship task that resembled the bully from the team’s project. Luke Fitzgerald wrote the navigation programs that used proportional corrections with sensor data to keep the robot driving straight using the gyro sensor and to keep the robot following lines using the light sensor. Kenny Chamberlain took the lead on the Ev3 programming process to connect the navigational programs to the robot mechanisms. During this process, the team members used real-time data from the sensors to adjust the mission programs. This also resulted in the kids learning to use operations with integers, absolute value functions, inequalities and conditional logic in switch statements.

On November 11, 2014, the team was crowned the Norwich Qualifier Event Champion, based on the combined scores of the team in the robot game, robot design, project and core values. The tournament director stated that the event was at its maximum capacity with 22 teams from across Vermont. Norwich showed the kids the red carpet with opportunities to visit the only Smithsonian partner museum in Vermont, the computer numerical control cutting machine shop (it makes objects from blocks of metal) and a civil engineering lab. GMG’s placement at the event earned the team an invitation to compete at the NH/VT Regional Championship event in Nashua, NH on December 6, 2014.

The NH/VT Regional Championship was electric. Thousands of spectators filled the gymnasium with cheers that nearly drowned out the thunderous dance music that accompanied the jumbo-tron display of the head-to-head autonomous robot competitions. The heat in the pit area was palpable as the teams shared their projects with one another, exchanged ideas on robot design and made new friends. GMG made excellent use of this time by collaborating with other teams to learn more about how to integrate pneumatic devices into their robot for next year.

Anyone interested in FLL should contact Paul Fitzgerald at

SOURCE: Paul Fitzgerald, Guest Contributor