Fairmont, W.Va. – A FIRST Lego League robotics competition qualifier was held at Fairmont State Saturday.
FIRST, or for the inspiration and the recognition of science and technology, is a worldwide robotics contest that is in over 100 countries. Middle school teams from all around West Virginia take part said tournament director Todd Ensign.
Ensign said the event evaluates students in four areas and that each year has a theme, which means teams have to build a custom robot, with unique specifications, meaning they cannot reuse old ones from previous years. Teams have to give a presentation about their research to judges, a presentation on robot design, one presentation on their teammates and finally, there is the performance of how well the robot does on the game field.
All four categories were equally weighted the top five out of nine teams with the highest overall scores advanced to the state championship that’s on Dec. 7. Ensign said the contest was a chance to encourage the youth to be more interested in the field of STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“As a young child I was more interested in Legos and computers than I was in sports and so I didn’t have an outlet for my interests,” Ensign said. “And today these students are being rewarded for being the geeks and the nerds because instead of being ostracized they’re now being celebrated as the champions in their schools, they get to bring home trophies.”
The contest, he said began over 20 years ago when Dean Kamen, who invented the insulin pump and Segway wanted to inspire children to work in STEM, leading him to form the FIRST organization. FIRST, then teamed up with The Lego Education Group to create, the now, global contest.
“If they succeed here at Lego League the can go on to higher education, they can become computer scientists and work at NASA and that’s our goal,” Ensign said. “We sponsor this program and work with students because we want to move our economy here in West Virginia. We want to recruit the best and brightest minds to work at NASA and it’s a win-win both for our students who will have a brighter future and for our state and our economy.”
Ensign said the university, in collaboration with NASA, runs 12 unique robotic programs serving ages 5 to the college level and Lego League is one merely on of them.
Only one team from West Virginia will qualify to go to the World Festival in Detroit, Ensign said, which is the final competition featuring teams from all around the world.