If you happened to wander accidentally onto Madison College campus on the morning of Saturday November 9, you’d be excused for believing you’d stumbled into a giant middle school summer science camp. Teams of kids, aged anywhere between 7 and 14 wearing coordinated team t-shirts had the run of the place, putting finishing touches on their elaborate science project displays and robotic creations. Scattered across several locations around the campus, and providing a focus for the milling masses of hundreds of kids, their parents, coaches and spectators were several ping-pong sized tables, each one with an identically laid out obstacle course built entirely out of LEGO® bricks. From time to time a team of kids was summoned by a referee, and the real excitement began.
On getting a “thumbs up” from the team, the referee would set off a buzzer – the team, made up of anywhere from two to ten kids, would run up to the table. A couple of the kids set their robot – built around a LEGO® Mindstorms® “smart brick” – down nervously but quickly in a designated corner. One kid checked that the proper attachments to the robot were in place, the other verified that the right program was dialed in. They aligned their creation carefully on the table, and hit a big orange button on the body of the robot to launch it. The robot then trundled away – on wheels or treads depending on how the team conceived it – and pushed toy LEGO® trucks to designated zones on the board, wrecked some LEGO® buildings while carefully raising others above an imagined flood, rescued little LEGO® minifigs, and reunited LEGO® family members with each other and with their pets, also built of tiny LEGO®s. The robot returned to its home base as often as needed where the kids could tinker with it, switching out attachments and programs. Two and a half tense and breathless minutes after starting, the second buzzer sounded indicating the end of the round, and the team would erupt into a spontaneous cheer as its results were announced by the presiding judges.