Sunday, December 20, 2009

390 point practice run

This is the bestest table run we've recorded. Our all time best table run, evah, is 400 smackers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On to State! got robot? wins Technical Award at regional.

got robot? attended their regional qualifier on Dec. 12th, in Rockford, Illinois. It was one of the smaller regional tournaments in Illinois with only 10 teams attending. They had a very good day and their teamwork, technical, and presentation judging went very, very well.

Their table scores for the robot game were considerably lower than anticipated in part from the brand new, and much tackier, mission mats throwing off some key turns and higher ambient light levels throwing off one of the unshielded sensors causing the robot to miss important way points. Their highest table score was 270 points and their highest score for the day was 325. Overall they ranked 3rd or 4th on the table for the day. They have their homework cut out for them as they gather their thoughts for the state tournament in January.

During the awards ceremony the team won the Technical Award for robot design an programming and was one of three teams chosen to advance to the state tournament. All in all a very good day for team 247.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hey we're in the paper!

The Mrs. and I were thumbing through our copy of the Daily Herald when we spot on page 5 of section 5 a press release about our team. Thanks Sue!

400 Points!

got robot? did their very first 400 point table run on Dec. 6th!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Great use of Sensors

Lego's in Paradise posted this video of a 400 point run on YouTube. I think their use of sensor is interesting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Final weeks

Like most projects much of FLL is trying to control chaos and then organizing it into something presentable. As we near our Dec. 12th date much of what we've been working on is now coming together.

Our project this year is so awesome. We've spent a lot of time in research and have interviewed four experts with a fifth lined up. I'm hoping the judges will be blown away. The team has done a terrific job. 

Carol and I have worked hard to put a state tournament polish on what we're presenting at our regional. The purpose is to be that much further along should we advance to state. Last year we discovered the month interval between regional and state leaves very little time to make improvements. Especially when you factor Christmas and News Years into the equation.

Considering all the time we've spent the project our table missions are a tad behind schedule. I'm not too worried though because we've worked out our navigation so that the robot can find its way using sensors and way points. Unlike last year the kids are working out the solutions pragmatically. Their plan is to run three missions with a couple contingency missions in case something goes wrong and they need to retrieve the robot by hand.

I'm also proud of the kids for learning and applying some advanced programming techniques. Six of our seven members can explain a proportional controller and half them can write one from memory. I think it's pretty cool. I hope the technical judge will think so too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Table Progress

West: The robot can pick up the blue loop, the gray loop, and the three loops consistently every time but still has to pick up the next gray loop yet.

End (east): Robot performs every thing consistently but the ending turns still need to be tweaked.

T2: First two loops grabbed consistently but brown still needs work.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

Yesterday as part of our research project we took a field trip down to the Thompson Center in Chicago to interview Secretary of State Jesse White.

Secretary White is a remarkable man with a life long list of accomplishments-- any one of which would be sufficient for one life time. The Secretary was very gracious and has a real love for kids. We had an appointment for one hour with him but he kept asking questions about our team, our robot, and FLL that, by the time we gathered our things to leave, he was late for another appointment because of the extra time he spent with us.

He was incredibly generous and lavished us with a ton Jesse White Tumblers wrist bands and lanyards, then filled us up with Girl Scout Cookies and soda pop, and then opened a huge box of Halloween Candy and said "dig in!"  As we were leaving he asked for the date of our regional tournament so that he could put it on his calendar!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wisdom from a veteran Coach

I ran across this bit of wisdom while browsing the Projects section of the FLL forums. I thought it was worth passing on.

The research assignment this year is beautiful in its ambiguity. Through careful selection of the community you can make almost any topic fit into the project guidelines. As long as you do all parts of the research assignment it would be unfair for the judges to mark you down. Judges should be expecting some wacky ideas this year.

You should pick a topic you are really interested in and will have fun researching and presenting. If you have fun and learn something you are a big winner, regardless of what the judge says.

The only reason to get a high score in FLL is to have another opportunity to compete. If you aren't having any fun this isn't much of a motivator... ...The plaques and trophies they (my team) have won are getting dusty in storage somewhere. The excitement of winning only lasted a short time, as does the disappointment of losing. But the friends you make and the fun you have is what makes the program worthwhile. That is why my team competes year after year. -- Dean Hystad

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Insights from a technical judge

I ran across this little nugget from Dave Parker on the FLL forums.

As a judge, I would like to hear more than "Bill made that one, and Sue made this one" from the kids, and hopefully also more than "This one has a light sensor, this one doesn't". I might ask "Why use the one without the light sensor, since it can also count motor degrees?". There may be practical answer, but I want to make sure the kids are on top of it.

I have judged at the state and WF (World Festival) levels, and listened in on many judging sessions at the local/qualifier level, and I would also add that in general, at the lower levels (e.g. qualifying tournament), design judges are interested in stuff you haven't finished yet (even attachments that are in progress), but at the higher levels, it moves to more of just what the final robot can do.

Having said that, at WF last year, one team showed me two robots, one of which was a redesign since winning their state championship, which was designed to go faster in an attempt to get more done in the time limit. After putting a lot of work into it, they still couldn't get it to score any higher than their original slower one, so they ran that one, but I was impressed that they tried and were able to explain the whys.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Easy huh? Prove it.

There are a couple kids on our team that have repeatedly commented that this years missions are easy. I agree the individual missions are easy but getting to them isn't. 

I spotted this comment on the FLL forums and thought it was worthy of a bump.
As someone who has been involved since the beginning, I believe this year's challenge is the best ever for the real goal of the competition: making successful autonomous robots... I think the rest of the problems are very good. And if there are more 400's, so what?... I think the top robots will be the best that we have ever seen. There is a much more realistic feel to everything. There are few items which can be scored by aiming. There are definite "zones" which have lots of things to do, but little benefit from multiple trips, meaning the robot has to be very flexible. In short, the best ever. The rules are the best ever as well... It is great! If you are new to this, enjoy it. It has taken 11 years to get this far.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Most of our team has seen this video but it still stands as an excellent example of team strategy and robot navigation. Notice how little time the robot spends in base and how often it realigns itself with the sides of the table. Very smart!


Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Last fall I extended an invitation to a young lady to join our team and even though it looked like a sure thing sometimes circumstances come up. So as that door closed another one opened and I had an opportunity to observe two young men that show tremendous promise. After talking at length with their parents about the commitments of being involved in FLL I extended an offer to the boys.

We are now a team of seven. Rookies, Roger and Ryan, will join our team of five veterans for the 2009-2010 Smart Move season.

Congratulations and WELCOME!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ideas From Anywhere

I was reading the FLL forums and ran across this link about Lego Guards, an FLL team from California, who were selected to go to Copenhagen Denmark and present their project idea.

Of all the teams invited, Lego Guards was selected to have their project developed.

The Forest Guard team flew to Basingstoke to meet with Sony engineers and Director of Research and Development, Morgan David, to further expand their ideas for the wildfire detection system including the development of software, servers and solar CCTV camera prototypes.

In this clip we follow the Forest Guard kids as they continue the development of their innovative wildfire detection system.

Monday, July 20, 2009


It's been a couple months since our trip to Ohio to the U.S. Open and it's felt good to decompress and relax a little after an intense rookie year. My wife and I have run in to the our team members at church and 4-H events over the summer. They've grown taller. Watching our kids see their team mates has been fun--it's like a family reunion with all the chatter and they just pickup where ever they left off the last time.

I wonder if there's a 12 step program for FLL? It's contagious. Once you catch it you can never really shake it. Oh, you can put it out of your mind for a little while but soon it creeps back from the recesses of your mind to the forefront--next thing you know you're thinking tactics and training again.

But now there are tremors. Small, almost imperceptible little quivers of activity in the FLL community that will build with frequency and intensity until the FLL competitions.

About every other week I'll take a glance at the FLL forums to see if there are any recent posts. Last seasons comments have been archived and the forum boards have been swept clean making room for fresh comments about this year's challenge by a few newbie coaches trying to get an early start and the die-hard old timers that live FLL 24/7/365. As September approaches I've noticed the activity on the board is beginning to show more activity--not much--but a little. I've also noticed some groundwork activity from a few coaches I know who are sizing up potential sponsors.

I'm thinking more about FLL again too. I spotted a bargain on Ebay and bought some parts that will be handy for competition. I've also started to think a lot about the "Smart Moves" field mat, which FIRST placed on the cover of the new coaches manual just to tease and torture us, and how to go about preparing the team for more sensor reliant navigation.

It's a healthy obsession--right?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Saturday: Go time!

Arrived at the Nutter Center a little after 8:00 a.m. to snag time at the pit to get ready for our first table run at 9:05. Unfortunately so did everyone else. Oh well.

The robot isn't running as well as we'd like but we're hanging in there. First and third runs didn't go so well but our second is run is a respectable 230. It looks like we'll finish somewhere in the 30's for ranking. Still hoping to bring a yellow trophy home. (crossing fingers!)
We're still having fun though.

Okay, now for some snaps!

Robot Wars

Friday, May 8, 2009

1:52 PM Friday

We arrived at the Wright State University Student Union at 9:00 am for our presentation, technical, and teamwork judging. The entire tournament has been organized with military-like precision. (gee, I wonder if it has anything to do with the airforce base that's here?) Our judging sessions were lined up to coordinate with our team alliance partners (other FLL teams) and all three sessions were done by 10:45. We stopped off at Wendy's for a quick bite and then headed back to the Nutter Center to set up for the afternoon robot practice runs.

The pit areas are reserved for team members and coaches only--which is good because it's pretty tight. It's a large space. Half of a gymnasium floor. But when you cram 60 teams with all their stuff there's not a great deal of space left over.

Most of the pits have displays which range from simple project boards to fancy arial signage supported by ballons. Most of the teams have swaps which are little souveniers like buttons. stickers, pamphlets, etc. to trade with other teams. Some teams even have a candy bowls on their tables. One team from Hawaii practically has a souvenier shop set up at their table complete with real flowers for your hair and macadamia nuts. (I've visited their table a couple times--macadamia oh yeah!)

Our team has red and blue silicone wrist bands with got robot? on one side and FIRST LEGO League on the other. We brought 600 hundred and we've gone through most of 'em.

The 60 teams are divided into what are called pods with six teams and one practice table per pod. We have a couple really good teams in our pod. One worth noting are the Cougars from OH. They have a 400pt scoring robot and did just that during one of the practice rounds. They have an incredible machine which is fun to watch--very elegant and efficient in design and function. I've been talking to their coach, Jamie, who has the heart of a teacher and has been very generous to show me and Kristen their sequence program they use to call up programs on their robot. Very advanced.

This tournament is running live practice rounds on THE competition tables to get the teams ready for tomorrow. Our first run was at 1:30 and had a decent run with a score of 290. Our second run didn't go as well and we scored a 120. Ouch. Nonetheless, at the end of the day we were 6th overall for the practice runs. I've noticed when the humidity is high our robot doesn't run as well--and it isn't. I heard other coaches complaining as well although they hadn't made the connection. Hopefully, the humidity will be lower tomorrow. If it is I would expect our scores to be higher--however I would guess everyone elses will be too.

At 4:30 the teams packed up the robots and laptops and loaded out for the day. At 5:00 we all packed the stands for the opening ceremony which included an Airforce color guard which was a nice touch. The rest of the ceremony was somewhat typical with the exception of a 60 team group photo at the end. After that we all headed to the student union for the "Engineering Extravaganza" and pasta dinner which ran until 8:30 PM.

It's been a long day with lots to do and see. Tomorrow is the robot competition. We're leaving the hotel early to arrive at the pit at 8:00 am. Our first table run is at 9:05.

Time for bed.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

We're here!

All three families have arrived and are checked into the motel. Team check in for the tournament is in 20 minutes.

Update from Jake:

This morning I woke up at 4:30 AM to get on the road by 5:30 AM.......and yes we left on time!!!!! now just a 6 hour car trip to Dayton. During the trip I did some schoolwork, we cached and ate food. Just as we were about to exit we noticed that the exit was being worked on so we had to get off at the next possible exit, which meant we were in downtown Dayton which is filled with one way streets. Armed with the latest version of Google Earth and my trusty GPS Map 60CSx I was able to manually navigate to the Hotel. After checking in and putting all of the food stuff into the fridge we put our Got Robot? shirts on and headed over to the nutter center to register our team, set up our pit and meet other teams. After talking to many teams about their team, Robots, projects, and misc. facts we handed out wristbands and received swaps from other teams it was time to hop on the coach bus that would take us to the museum. After a short ride over to the museum we waited outside until the red team (we were team blue) had filed out of the IMAX theater so we could watch the "Under the Sea" movie. The movie was very cool and filled with exotic fish, sharks, sea stars and underwater snails!!! Then for 2 hours we had free roam of the museum. The museum was in chronological order from gliders all the way to mach one jet fighters. The museum consisted of 3 hangers that could have fit 3 to 4 football fields!!!! After and overview of the weekend (still at the musuem) we got back on the buses and headed back to the nutter center to get our car and drive back to the hotel. The time now is about 10:45 PM and after finishing typing this sentence I think I will fall right asleep. *yawn*


Alarm went off. Time to get the kids up and get ready to leave.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Packing for Ohio

Getting ready...

Robot? Check
Battery? Check
Laptop? Check
Presentation and gear? Check

Underwear? Oops! (better pack that too!)

We're leaving at the crack of dawn. Google maps says it's a 5-1/2 hour trip. We'll see.

There's going to be a ton of activity tomorrow after check in. Everybody's going to sleep well tomorrow night.

Friday is go-time for our judging. We'll be done by noon. Prayers and well-wishers welcome.

Will try to post and update tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

256 = 247

2 Days Until U.S. Open

This is a picture of us from our state tournament posing with our 3rd Place Champions Award. Stay tuned to see if we have anything new in our photo from the U.S. Open Championships. (crossing fingers)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tough Night

got robot? had a tough night Saturday. Sometimes we forget the little things. We get comfortable and take shortcuts. Eventually the shortcuts become routine and before we know it we've forgotten the details--all the really small stuff that can make or break you when push comes to shove.

We got lucky though. We found out before it was too late. By running competition simulations of the table run--actually leaving the room, setting up within a time constraint, remembering to double check everything before we arrive at the competition table we rediscovered all the important little details that can make the difference between a lousy score and one worthy of a high five. 

Hmmmm, kinda like life in the grown up world. 

I'm proud of these kids. They're going to do great things. Experiences like this will take them far in life.   

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Getting back to where we started...

As the date for our competition draws near we need to be mindful of the FLL Values we recited the day we formed our team.

  1. We are a team.
  2. We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
  3. We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
  4. What we discover is more important than what we win.
  5. We share our experiences with other.
  6. We display gracious professionalism* in everything we do.
  7. We have fun.
* Gracious professionalism...
  • Gracious attitudes and behaviours are "win-win".
  • Gracious people respect others and let that respect show through their actions.
  • Gracious professionals make a valued contribution in a manner pleasing to others and to themselves. They possess special knowlege and are trusted by society to use that knowlege responsibly.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


got robot? had a tremendous practice Monday evening. After struggling for several weeks with a buggy robot and programs Monday's practice produced huge results.

Following a long weekend of chassis and program refinements by two team members got robot? was able to spend their entire practice concentrating on perfecting the robot game. Out of 16 table runs the robot scored an average of 267 points and scored 315 on their best run.

The robot is running so well during the 2:30 minutes that there's time to spare. The team is now working to add another mission or two.

Well done team!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Results from World Festival in Atlanta

Post Event News Release from
ATLANTA –April 18, 2009 – Twenty-thousand spectators, students, mentors, volunteers, sponsors, and FIRST supporters gathered over the weekend to experience the ultimate celebration of science and technology that ignites students’ scientific savvy in three levels of Championship competitions. Teams from California, Illinois, and Michigan emerged victorious at the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It was the climax to months of regional competitions involving 1,680 teams from the United States and ten other nations: Brazil, Canada, Chile, Germany, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Eighty four teams from 27 countries participated in the FIRST LEGO League World Festival. This year’s “Climate Connections” real-life challenge tasked students, ages 9 to 14, to design, build, and program robots and embark on an exploration of the earth’s climate. Top honors went to Champion’s Award 1st Place winner, Team 55 “Da Peeps” from Swartz Creek, Michigan; Champion’s Award 2nd Place winner, Team 1232 “STEELE” from Kildeer, Illinois; and Champion’s Award 3rd Place winner, Team 9201 “NXT Generation” from Nordborg, Denmark. The Champion’s Award measures how teams inspire and motivate others about the excitement and wonders of science and technology, while demonstrating gracious professionalism.

Joe Meno has posted links to his Brick Journal photos at Jim Kelly's The NXT STEP blog:

2nd Place Champions Award Winner!
Illinois Team 1232 Team STEELE at World Festival

Illinois Team 1217 Supernova at World Festival
Nominated for a Programming Award and for their Gracious Professionalism.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Congratulations Team Steele!!

We just got an email informing us that Illinois FLL Team Steele just received the 2nd Place Champions Award at World Fest in Atlanta, GA

Way to go!!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Terrific support!

Ya know? I got to thinking about all that has happened this year and the parents and people behind the scenes that have supported us.  Now that I have a soap box I'll make it public.

Thank you Sue R. for the countless team press releases, advice, encouragement, and fundraising. You rock!!

Thank you Dave R. for the the awesome t-shirts, encouragement, and team goodies. 

Thank you Dan and Leesa U. for the words of encouragement and your calm, understanding nod when I vent about how crazy the kids get.

Thank you Marc S. for mentoring our team and giving us a judges perspective on the technical presentation.

Thank you Cynthia S. for sitting down with a my wife and I a year and a half ago and telling us all about FLL and the satisfaction that comes from coaching a team.

Thank you Carol M. for putting up with my new obsession, for coaching the research project, and taking care of the details I tend to forget. Luv you!

Thank you: Matt, Kristen, Bradley, Marc, and Jake for the fun, pride and memories.


Coach -- got robot?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We're going to the U.S. Open!!

A lot has happened since we first met in September.

Our team of 5 FLL rookies has had one crazy year. After much pizza, sweat and tears our team made it through the Lake Zurich regional tournament in December and won the Judges Choice Award which qualified us for the Illinois State tournament in January.

Christmas and New Years fell in between our regional and state tournament and didn't leave us much time to prepare for state. But somehow we managed to add a few more potential points to our table run and tighten up our research project.

The Illinois state tournament was a blast! We ran from event to event over the two days the tournament took place. In between robot runs and judging events we got a chance to meet Steve Hassenplug, a Mindstorms guru that my kids and I admire.

Finally, at the end of two exhausting days we gathered in the bleachers with the other teams for the awards ceremony. There were a couple dozen bright yellow brick trophies centered on a table before us and we silently hoped our hard work would earn us one them. As the ceremony progressed and fewer and fewer awards were left to give out. Our hearts sank as we realized the remaining trophies were only for the top three teams. Then, certain we were finished, came the announcement that got robot? had won the 3rd Place Champions Award!

The 1st and 2nd place champion teams automatically qualified to move on to either the U.S. Open Championship in Dayton, OH or World Fest in Atlanta, GA. In the off chance either of those teams couldn't attend our team could take their place.

Both teams decided to go so we had our celebration party and disbanded the team until fall. But a couple weeks ago, in a strange twist of fate, one of the teams signed up for the U.S. Open could not attend so the open slot was extended to our team. We're going to the U.S. Open!!!!

With less than a month to regather the team and take the robot out of mothballs we've been busy trying to put the shine back into our project presentation and robot game. We only have a couple weeks remaining until the competition but we're rapidly getting back up to speed and we should be ready by May 7th to show Dayton what got robot? can do.

Stay tuned!