FIRST Lego League
|Current season or competition:
Nature's Fury (2013-14)
|No. of teams||16762 (2010-2011)|
|TV partner(s)||NASA TV|
Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen
The FIRST LEGO League (also known by the acronym FLL) is an international competition organized by FIRST for elementary and middle school students (ages 9–14 in the USA and Canada, 9–16 elsewhere).
In September each year, a new challenge is announced that focuses on a different real-world topic related to the sciences. Each challenge within the competition then revolves around that theme. The robotics part of the competition revolves around designing and programming Lego Robots to complete tasks. The students work out solutions to the various problems they are given and then meet for regional tournaments to share their knowledge, compare ideas, and display their robots.
There are four main sections of the competition. Firstly, in the Core Values Session, students are interviewed by a panel of judges or participate in a teamwork exercise. Secondly, in the Robot Design Executive Summary, or technicals, the students must demonstrate that the robot they built is designed appropriately for the tasks given (effective design, use of sensors, etc.). Thirdly, in the research project, the students must do a research project and give a short presentation to a panel of judges on the innovative problem-solving they completed. Finally, the students must use the robots they designed and built to autonomously complete a set of tasks on a playing field.
The robots made by the teams perform at this event. The robot is autonomous and completes missions on a mat or board (where the missions are set up). The robot then has two and a half minutes to complete those missions. Two members of the team are allowed at the board during a match; however, they can switch out if needed. In the case of a serious problem, such as the entire robot breaking down, the entire team is allowed at the board for as long as the problem persists. Only one robot is allowed per team at the table; otherwise the team is disqualified. Members are not permitted to bring board items from other practice tables to the board during competition.
The robot starts in an area marked as 'base'. This is a white area in the corner or to one side of the table. In base, two team members are allowed to touch the robot and start programs. If the team touches the robot while it is outside of base (a 'rescue' or 'retrieve'), the touch penalty objects are removed from play. These are mission models that are worth points without manipulation, providing an incentive to not rescue the robot. The robot is not required to return to base; some teams have completed all their missions without returning to base during the time allowed to complete the missions. In fact, in the 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-2012, and 2012-13 challenges, points were awarded if the robot was in one of two specified areas, not including base, at the end of the two and a half minute match.
FIRST Lego League teams use Lego Mindstorms kits to construct their robots. The robots are programmed using one of two graphical based programming languages: NXT-G, the programming software that comes with the current kit, or Robolab, a software language built around Labview. Each robot is only allowed to use up to four sensors total (which ones and how many depend on the year) and up to 3 motors.
Due to the large number of perfect scores in the 2007-08 season, the level of difficulty increased dramatically for the 2008-09 season. There were still a few perfect scores, so the difficulty was once again drastically increased for the 2009-10 season, in which navigation was made tough by forcing sharp twists and turns, as well as obstacles and straight driving, something that is surprisingly hard. In the 2011-12 season, the difficulty increased again making the theoretical maximum score unobtainable. By including a time intensive repeated task, the designer made it impossible to get a "perfect" score within the time limits of the game. This task created a virtual "soft" maximum score that challenges teams to get as many iterations of the task as possible within the time limit. Table performance is worth 16.6% of the total mark.
Robot Design Executive Summary
Each team has a timed interview (usually 5 to 10 minutes) with a team of judges to discuss the design and operation of their robot. Judges look for teams whose work stands out because of its innovation and/or navigational consistency. To assess innovation, the judges watch the robots work, looking for actions that impress them. They also interview team members to reveal the less obvious unique and inventive ideas. To assess navigational consistency, the judges interview the teams to learn what solid principles and best practices were used to reduce variability and errors. Robot design is worth 16.6% of the final mark.
Prior to the competition, the teams complete research related to the topic of the year. For example, in 2007 the teams researched alternative energy, which included an energy audit on a building in their area and possible improvements to its existing systems. The teams then present this information during a timed presentation to the judges. This is followed up by a timed question and answer period (typically, these are 5 minutes each). The teams can use props in their presentation, such as models or PowerPoints. The project is worth 33.3% of the final mark.
Observation judges watch each team in action and also interview the team to discuss how the team functioned. Judges identify teams that best demonstrate enthusiasm, spirit, partnership, respect to their own teammates and others, and gracious professionalism. Core values is worth 33.3% of the final mark.
Teams in different parts of the world have different times allotted to complete the construction of the robot, due to the varying date of qualifying tournaments. They go on to compete in FLL tournaments, similar to the FIRST Robotics Competition regionals. In the 2006–07 season, nearly 90,000 students on 8,846 teams from around the world competed. Each team has to compete in a local/regional qualifying tournament before advancing to the state/provincial tournaments.
The largest single-day regional qualifying tournament is hosted by First State Robotics and First State FIRST Lego League in Wilmington, Delaware. Taking place every January, this event holds Junior FIRST Lego League (Jr.FLL; grades K-3), FIRST LEGO League (FLL; grades 4–8), FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC; grades 9–12), FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC; grades 9–12), and robot sumo competitions under one roof at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center. Teams from Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland (among other regions) attend this tournament to make it the largest single-day FIRST event in the world.
The first place Champions Award winners from each state/provincial tournament (only if that state/provincial tournament has won the lottery to send teams) is then invited to the FLL World Festival. In 2007, 96 teams competed in the FLL World Festival in Atlanta, Georgia on April, 27th–30th. The 2007–08 Power Puzzle FLL World Festival and the 2008–09 FLL World Festival on Climate Connections were held again in the Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center. Starting with the 2010-11, FLL World Festival is held at the Edward Jones Dome and America's Center in St. Louis.
Additionally, the Champions Award winners from each state/provincial tournament may participate in one of the Open Championships which are organized by FLL Partners. The eligibility criteria may differ.
Awards are intended to be spread equitably among deserving teams. As such, teams are normally allowed to win only one core (judged) award. Teams can win an additional award based on their robot's performance during the robot game competition portion of the tournament. The following are FIRST's recommended awards:
FLL Core Awards (potentially 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for each, based on tournament size)
- Champion’s Award – this award is optional for qualifying tournaments
- Robot Design Award
- Robot Performance Award
- Project Award
- Teamwork Award
- Against All Odds Award
- Rising Star Award
- Team Spirit Award
- Judges’ Award
- Local Awards (also see below)
Special Recognition Awards
- Outstanding Volunteer Award
- Adult Coach/Mentor Award
- Young Adult Mentor Award
Additionally, some tournaments may offer additional awards that are not specified by FIRST. These can include:
- Programming Award
- Innovative Design Award
- Research Quality Award
- Innovative Solution Award
- Creative Presentation Award
- Rookie-Team-of-the-Year Award
- Outstanding Costumes
- Good sportsmanship award
- IEEE award (money and only in some competitions)
The challenges for FLL are based on several different themes:
|Year||Theme||Number of participants||Number of teams||Notes|
|1999||First Contact||9,500||975||It focused around a group of astronauts stranded in a space station; missions included pulling a lever to allow the astronauts into a chamber and delivering oxygen (foam balls) to different sections of the playing field.|
|2000||Volcanic Panic||15,000||1,540||In this challenge, robots had to complete challenges prior to the eruption of a volcano, such as rescuing a stranded scientist, barricading a village from lava rocks, deploying a gas sensor, and retrieving crates of samples, among other volcano-related tasks.|
|2001||Arctic Impact||18,500||1,902||Robots had to complete tasks on an Arctic themed board such as retrieving medicine barrels, and rescuing minifigure scientists from polar bears.|
|2002||City Sights||27,009||3,001||Robots completed tasks such as clearing rocks off a soccer field, harvesting and delivering food loops, collecting toxic barrels, activating a windmill, and other city-related tasks.|
|2003||Mission Mars||42,000||4,331||Inspired by the year's Mars Rover mission, competing teams had to design and construct robots to solve a number of problems like removing rocks from a 'solar panel' to ensure a Mars base energy supply, collect 'soil/rock samples' from the Martian desert landscape, etc.|
|2004||No Limits||50,000||5,859||Centered around various robotic assistant systems for disabled persons, robots demonstrate how the systems are (hopefully) able to solve the given problems in a satisfying way.|
|2005||Ocean Odyssey||60,000||7,501||Involved marine-themed tasks such as mapping a sunken ship, deploying a research submarine, and cleaning up a shipping spill.|
|2006||Nano Quest||90,000||8,847||The challenge is developing anything using nanotechnology that improves or makes life easier from medicine to computers to the environment.|
|2007||Power Puzzle||109,410||10,941||The challenge is on alternative energy and features tasks such as moving power lines, fuel sources and planting trees.|
|2008||Climate Connections||13,705||The challenge focuses on the Earth's past, present, and future climate. Students must research a climate problem occurring in their area, find a solution, then share it. They also have to research another area which has the same problem as their area. Featured moving balls, bicycles, computers, setting up levees, etc.|
|2009||Smart Move||14,725||The challenge centers around efficient transportation and teams are to solve a particular problem with the mode of transportation that they have chosen. The robot game includes activating access markers, collecting loops, toggling a lever to move a truck, avoid warning beacons, parking at one of two specified locations, etc.|
|2010||Body Forward||16,762||Explore the cutting-edge world of biomedical engineering to discover innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome genetic predispositions, and maximize the body's potential, with the intended purpose of leading happier and healthier lives. The robot game includes moving bionic eyes to the upper body, separating red and white blood cells, opening a door, and more.|
|2011||Food Factor||18,323||The 2011 challenge focused on improving the quality of food by finding ways to prevent food contamination. The missions included removing bacteria, delivering food, and refrigeration.|
|2012||Senior Solutions||Improve and maintain the quality of life of senior citizens|
|2013||Nature's Fury||Explore the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams will discover what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.|
|2014||World Class - Learning Unleashed||Redesign how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Teams will teach adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn.|
The original robotics kit used by FLL was the RCX Mindstorms kit, which Lego no longer sells to the general public. In August 2006, LEGO released a new Mindstorms kit called the NXT. In 2006 and 2007, teams using the RCX could earn "fairness bonus" points based on the fact that the RCX was less technologically advanced. However, the "fairness bonus" was discontinued for the 2008-09 season because tournament experience proved that the RCX teams were competitive and did not need it. In 2013, the NXT series kit was superseded by the EV3 series and the competition guidelines were updated to allow both EV3 and NXT-based robots to compete.
- FLL Open Asian Championship website
- USFIRST.org/What FLL is
- USFIRST.org/FLL community
- Hands on Technology/FLL
- First State Robotics website
- First State FIRST LEGO League website
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- "2007 Power Puzzle Challenge: Missions, Rules, Field Set Up, Project". Retrieved 2007-12-06.
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