Your confused ... hey, spare a thought for me a rookie coach trying to keep up with these guys :)
Actually the fog surrounding FLL is one of the issues I suffered with at the outset - the FLL guys seem to assume that you have encountered the FLL via a seasoned team who will guide you in. Not so for us. We found out about it last August and signed up in September with no prior knowledge. Once you are in the fog you tend to forget for a while that there are others out there trying to see in at what you are up to. Anyway, here goes for the 50000ft helicopter view of the FIRST LEGO League ...
To start with, it has many names and several parts. You may hear of the "FIRST LEGO League (FLL)" or the "2012 Senior Solutions Challenge" or "FLL World Festival". These are all part of the same thing. Each year the FLL has a theme and this year it is senior solutions. The missions in the robot game and the research topics for the team projects will all relate to the theme.
FIRST things FIRST ... what is that all about? FIRST is actually an acronym and it stands for "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology". FIRST is a not-for-profit public charity.
What is the schedule? When does it all happen? Well, the FLL year starts in September when the challenge is announced and the challenge kits (mats and lego parts for the robot game) are made generally available for distribution. The rest of the season is largely dictated by the preparation for and then participation in the regional, national and international tournaments.
Regional events typically take place in the last quarter of the year (e.g. Melbourne Tournament was in December-2012) and are followed a couple of months later by the National events (e.g. Australian National Tournament was in February-2013). The International event this year is to be held during the "FIRST World Festival" in St Louis, USA in April-2013. In addition there are open tournaments held in various parts of the world, this year in Germany in May and also a new Asia Pacific tournament in Sydney in July. So, yes, it is still called the 2012 challenge even though it runs well into 2013!
It is worth pointing out that the FLL teams spend the times prior to and in between the tournaments preparing for the tournament. Most teams only make minor adjustments to their robots and project at the event itself. Regional and National events may be completed within a single day the bigger open and International events run over several days and are usually coupled with FTC and FRC tournaments at the same venue (more on those later when I find out about them!).
The challenge consists of several parts:
- ROBOT GAME: the robot game is based on a standard board with a number of missions on it all built from lego of course. The same board and missions are used throughout the FLL year. At each tournament each team gets three robot runs each of 2.5 minutes duration and they run their pre-built and pre-programmed robot attempting to get the highest score they can. The highest of the three rounds counts as the team score in the robot challenge which is good becuase most teams have a disaster round that they would sooner forget and the scoring system does just that :). The robot has to be built entirely from lego parts, one programming block (most teams use the NXT) , 3 motors and any number of official sensors. The robot game is the only objective/measured part of the challenge;
- PROJECT: the research project is based on the theme (this year it was senior solutions) they choose a problem, research it and propose a solution. The don't have to construct anything but many teams do knock up a prototype to illustrate their solution - our guys came up with the companion cube to help the elderly combat loneliness and they have constructed a prototype which we will be taking with us to the World Festival in April;
- CORE VALUES: for "core values" the team is assessed on their team working, communication and interaction skills - this is a difficult thing to train for but promoting friendly competitiveness, helping others within and outside the team are fundamentals. In some tournaments the team are set a brief exercise to see how they interact with one another and arrive at a conclusion and/or solve a problem as a team;
- TECHNICAL JUDGING: this is an assessment of the mechanical construction, innovative ideas incorporated, programming complexity etc. At regional events this may be completly free format but at international and open events you can expect a bit more structure and formality. At the FLL World Festival the teams are expected to present a Robot Design Executive Summary (RDES).
Well, there you go, that is the 50000ft helicopter view. There is obviously a lot more to it but hopefully when your grandchild runs up to you ans says hey I am off to a LEGO Robot Competition you'll have a better idea than I did last September!!!
If any of this has sparked an interest and you would like to learn more, just leave me a message via the contacts page.
Ian (I C Robotics Coach)