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Robotics team attending FLL World Festival

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A Westwood robotics team will represent Massachusetts at the FIRST Lego League (FLL) World Festival in St. Louis, MO on April 26 - 29. Sarah Bernardo, Michael Giovino, Ananya Manglik and Will Vaccaro are the HydraBeasts, an FLL robotics team in its fourth year. All team members are 8th graders at Thurston Middle School.

The team won first place and robot performance awards at the Northboro Regional Qualifying Tournament last December. They advanced to the MA West State Tournament, where they also won first place, getting an invite to the World Festival in St. Louis. The World Festival is the culmination of the FLL season. About 108 teams (out of 30,000 teams worldwide) get invited to each of two World Festivals. Teams from many countries as well as states of the U.S. are invited to these tournaments.

FLL is an international competition organized by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) for elementary and middle school students. The annual competition started in 1998. During each season, teams design, build and program a robot based on Lego parts and then run it in competition on a playing field. A lot of programming is required since the robot has to navigate the field and perform tasks on its own. Some of the tasks, like having the robot climb a wall, also present mechanical design challenges that the team has to solve.

During the season the team also researches and devises a solution to a real-world problem. This season’s theme was “Animal Allies.” In keeping with that theme the team developed a device that helps find ticks in hard-to-see locations. Team members first interviewed several physicians and researchers to learn about problems one encounters when trying to detect ticks. The team then experimented with lenses and a cell phone camera, resulting in a device that could be used to scan for ticks.

At the end of each FLL season, teams participate in tournaments where they can demonstrate their work. Each tournament is run like a sporting event with timed robot matches, scoreboards, judging sessions and awards. Each team is judged on its robot design, research project, and teamwork.

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