Lego team building more than blocks

Quentin McQueary, the youngest member of the team, set up part of the scenario in the Woodard's basement where the team practiced before the competitions.
Quentin McQueary (left), the youngest member of the team, set up part of the scenario with Ryan Woodard in the Woodard’s basement where the team practiced before the competitions.

The unmanned vehicle buzzed through the disaster scene to the cheers of the crowd.

It pushed a stricken vehicle out of a path, delivered water and supplies to stranded citizens, rescued a cat from a tree, removed a downed power-line, and returned a young girl to her family.

All in a little over two minutes.

A closer look at this wondrous vehicle reveals the familiar pain-inducing knobs of the world’s favorite building blocks; Legos.

And the cheering is actually chanting. “Let’s go Tigers! Let’s go! Let’s go Tigers! Let’s Go!” rings out for Tigers Unleashed. A team of six Jasper middle schoolers who are gathered around the 4 by 8 foot disaster scene that composes a portion of the FIRST® Lego League tournament.

The Tigers Unleashed robot.
The Tigers Unleashed robot.

Chris and Brenda Woodard, husband and wife coaches of the team, just finished the 2013 season. This is their second year at the middle school level and both their sons, 12-year-old Ryan and 14-year-old Sean, are members of the team that includes Becca Schitter, 12; Isaac Hopf 12; Quentin McQueary, 11; and Zach Watson, 12.

Chris and Brenda appreciate the team building and sportsmanship the competition fosters. “What I have found working in business is that teamwork is pretty important,” Chris said, “You can have a really, really smart guy but if he can’t integrate with other people, you just kinda push him aside. If you want to do really well at this, you have to work together.”

The previously described chanting comes from several other competing teams who are abiding by one of the competition’s core components. This aptly named Gracious Professionalism® promotes a common respect among participants that assisted the Tigers Unleashed team in winning the regional championship although they lost the robot component.

Since forming up in September, the team had to design, build and then program a robot using the Lego Mindstorm series of Legos. This is only one component of the three part competition in which the team must learn to work together to overcome real-life scenarios using science and technology.

To accommodate the missions, the team split up the different challenges the robot would face in the natural disaster scenario. Each team member programmed the robot with the Lego programming language that features visual representations of movements the bot would make for a certain period of time. These blocks were then connected in the correct series to allow the robot to perform the moves necessary to rescue the cat from the tree or deliver the supplies to the stranded citizens.

The team went through a process to come up with their team name, Tigers Unleashed. All are active  Minecraft players, but they couldn't agree on any names based around the popular video game that allows players to freely build in a sandbox world.
The team went through a process of elimination to come up with their team name, Tigers Unleashed. All are active Minecraft players, but they couldn’t agree on any names based around the popular video game that allows players to freely build in a sandbox world.

The other part of the competition has the team identifying a problem within the scope of the challenge — this year’s challenge was a natural disaster theme called “Nature’s Fury.”

Tigers Unleashed created a system built on a trailer platform that would house cats and dogs displaced by the natural disaster. Once the idea was conceived, the team then has to write a skit that explains the idea and the problem it solves. This is tied together with conceptual drawings and an infographic to present to judges.

The third component of the competition is connected to the design and building of the robot. The team completes and presents the processes they took to overcome the problems represented by the challenge.

(Left to Right) Isaac Hopf, Sean Woodard, Ryan Woodard, Becca Schitter, and Chris Woodard look on as the team prepares a practice run through the Nature’s Fury course.

Throughout the competition several factors in the teams performance are considered for scoring purposes: teamwork, good sportsmanship, cooperation, respect, team spirit as well as Gracious Professionalism®. In fact these factors are so important in the judging, that although the team was the region grand champion in November they didn’t place in the top times for the actual tabletop exercise. In fact, according to the team, they shared a solution with a competitor who then went on to score in the top on the tabletop exercise, beating the Tigers.

Despite this, the team’s ability to portray the gracious professionalism and teamwork that the competition holds in such a high regard allowed them to bring home the Grand Champion Trophy from the regional qualifying tournament held at the University of Southern Indiana campus on November 9th.

“At regional we actually took second on the table. The team that took first didn’t get to go on to state because they didn’t emphasize the teamwork,” Chris explained.

Here is the run.

Taking part in the competition isn’t cheap; the basic Mindstorm kit is about $400 without any extra kits. The team was supported through the high school robotics team as well as donations by Jasper Engines and Transmissions and Uebelhor and Sons.