Our journey began 3 years ago. One of the team member’s, Edward’s, brother participated the year before and so we gathered together to continue the school’s participation in this competition. So in September of 2014, we received the challenge from IET for that year’s First Lego League competition. It was based on the theme of World Class, how we could improve the methods of teaching in school. We spent countless hours firstly, building the robot for the robot game themed around that year’s challenge and secondly, developing our project idea, which was an educational app called “Applet”. Being our first year, we still had a lot to learn and went to the competition with low hopes for winning anything. We went to the annual FLL Wales Tournament in December at Swansea Waterfront Museum. As soon as we arrived, we saw other teams, with people who were interested in STEM activities like us all preparing for the day. We completed the tasks of the day, with getting an okay score in the robot game, getting our robot design judged, getting the project judged and participating in the core values challenge, to see how good our team working skills were. And then came the end of the day, with the award ceremony. We watched other teams get their medals and awards but to us, we knew that we’d had fun and this was the start of a big journey for us. Nearing the end of this presentation, the major awards came up. Firstly, was the winner of the robot game, then the robot design. Next came the project award. And to our surprise, we won this. All through going up onto that stage and getting that Lego trophy, we thought to ourselves that we can succeed.
During the time up to the next competition, we participated in the Welsh only TechnoCamps competition. With a different type of style to the challenge, we came 4th out of Wales in this. That year, 2015, in September, like the year before, we received our challenge pack. In here was the robot game map, the Lego parts for the missions on that board and our challenge document. That year’s theme was “Trash Trek”, all about how to improve recycling and reducing our waste. Starting afresh, we knew that this year, we could be the runners up or even winners of the Welsh region tournament. The 3 and a half months started slowly, with us doing little parts of the project so that was done and out of the way. Our idea was an app that showed local recycling information. Our team consisted of four people, Joseph and Ben (new members that year), Toby and Edward (both participated the year before). Ben being a keen programmer, actually made the app. This year we were a lot more experienced with the robot design. We went to the same venue to compete again against teams from all over Wales. This time we went there with high hopes. After following a similar structure to the day as the previous day, the award ceremony came again. This time we won the Robot Design award, came 4th overall in the robot game and came 3rd in the whole competition. Like last year, this result made us feel ever more confident for the next year and our improvement made us know that we could do even better.
So the next year came 2016. The challenge theme was released in September again and this year’s one was called Animal Allies. With high hopes, as soon as the challenge pack came, Ben, Joe, and Edward sat down one day after school with the leaflet. The challenge was to do with improving our interactions with animals. The robot game followed the theme with many missions being to do with animals. We came up with our project idea, and this was a home care system for your animals when you weren’t home. With the robot game, we built the robot and set up the board. We knew we could get at least 89 points on it if everything went well. We had such high hopes for the three of us and worked so hard up to the competition. Competition day came, with us having to leave from school at 8. Mrs. Ling, a helpful teacher from our school, and Mrs. Sarah Thomas, our school’s ICT, and Computer Science teacher, came with us to Swansea Waterfront Museum. We arrived at the venue at 9:30. With nerves and excitement, we entered the building, with our arms filled with the robot parts and the recourses required for the project. We set up, making our presentation table showcase all out hard work. Then we rushed to practice the robot game before the opening ceremony. This made us realize that this was our chance to succeed.
Our first activity of the day was the robot game. We prepare ourselves by waiting next to the table. This gave us a chance to see the other people’s robots perform in the round before ours. In total there were going to be over 30 Welsh teams competing 3 times in the robot game and the best score out of the three is the one that counts. It was our chance to step-up. We set-up our robot in base on the table, and readied for the clock to start ticking from 2 and a half minutes, down to zero. When the buzzer went, we watched the robot move along the board, scoring points perfectly. One mission after the other, our robot neared the time limit. A great sigh of relief came to the team when we found out that we scored 87 points, 2 away from what we knew we could get.
Next came the project judging. We entered a room with two judges. We presented the solution to the problem we identified and did a demo to them on how it would work. It was only 5 minutes we were actually meant to be in the room but we found ourselves having a longer conservation about our plans for the future and how this experience will help greatly. After that, we had to rush to our core values judging, where another two judges looked at how good our teamwork was. Firstly, we were asked a few questions of how we worked as a team. Then we were tasked with designing a robot that looked like an animal that could aid people in all types of disasters, situation, and climates. Our design followed a camel, with large space for food and water for the people in need for aid, long legs to get over terrain and various sensors and cameras to help it in the process. The judges seemed very pleased with the way that we discussed everyone’s opinions and ideas and also how we all had the same target, to make the best robot we could. The judging ended quickly and again, we felt relieved that another part of the day was over, and also felt proud, knowing that that went well.
After a quick lunch break, we started preparing for our next robot game. To cut it short, this time we only scored 38 point mainly due to many penalties we received. After this, our robot design was looked at. Edward explained the programming and Joe and Ben spoke about the actual design of the robot. We felt this went well. Now for the final robot game. We knew this could be our last time performing on one of these boards which made us even more anxious. Our robot performed flawlessly. Other teams surrounded the tables, most watching our robot move so smoothly and accurately to and from each mission model. They didn’t show us our score for that round and instead said they would wait until the end.
The closing ceremony began with awarding the smaller awards. Then came the winners for each section of the competition. Each award went by, with teams going up and receiving their trophies. We didn’t know what to think, we thought we hadn’t won anything but we still had hopes for the overall winners. The time it took to announce this result felt like ages. As soon as we heard the number 9 (that was our team number) and the head of EESW saying “Team Lightning”, we knew that our journey would continue on. The rest of the day, we were amazed by our achievement, all because we worked so hard. When the results came through, we saw that we actually won the project and robot design and came second in the robot game with 89 points, the winners of this section were only one point ahead with 90 points.
After the news finally sunk in, we began preparing ourselves to represent Wales in the FLL Britain and Ireland Final. The first step was to fundraise some money. We needed money to buy a new Lego Robotics Kit as before we had been using the now very old version. Mrs. Ling raised some money with a raffle and the school contributed some to get us the kit. We know had a lot more features available for us for the robot game. The final was to be held on the 26th of February. We spent over 1000 hours up to this date. We went up to Bristol, where the competition was being held, the night before. The competition started at 9:15, but we arrived early to have a chance practicing on the practice tables and to set up our display. When we entered the presentation room with the stage, ready for the opening ceremony, we saw 47 teams from across the country all competing against us. The opening ceremony included the itinerary for the day, and also a moment when Edward had to go up on stage and in front of everybody, shout his name and our team.
After the start, the day was filled with us going to judging rooms and doing robot games. It was a very surreal experience and very chaotic. During our last robot game, Ben was invited to be interviewed for live IET.tv, talking about what our robot was doing. The whole day was very exciting but all came to a conclusion. The closing ceremony. All through the day, we were too busy talking to other teams, practicing and preparing to think about how well we were doing, but this time gave us a chance to review our performance. This ceremony was very long, with lots of clapping. Half the ceremony went by with us not yet winning anything, but we knew what we had got our eyes on. The Robot Design Winner.
Lots of time had been used before the competition to design and build our new robot, called THOR. It has 2 wheels for the main drive, and then two more to power the attachment for the missions that can easily be removed and changed when the robot was in base. This is what we knew we could win. There were plenty of robots there that were performing better than ours, but we knew that our robot had a very unique, efficient and could perform amazingly if more time was spent programming it. We were very confident coming out of the robot design judging room that we had done well. SO there we are, sitting right in the front of the room with hundreds of other competitors eager to win something. Firstly, came the robot design runners up. We didn’t win this that made us feel both more nervous but also excited by the fact we could have won this part of the competition outright. The robot design head judge opened his envelope and said the words, “the winners of the robot design award are…… Team Lightning!”. We walked up onto the stage, shook both the presenter’s and head judges hand, accepted the trophy made entirely out of Lego, and had our photo taken. This was definitely the highlight of the day, as a team going up in front of all those people who all had similar interests as us to accept this amazing prize. When we went back to our seats, we read on one of the pieces of paper that were handed to us that we could either go to the International Open Championships in Bath or the European Open Championships in Denmark. This was such a surprise to us to be able to go even further.
Two days later we went back to school. News spread quickly about our achievement, and both teachers and pupils were amazed at how successful we had been. But that night, just before going to bed, Edward received a notification of an email from IET, the organizers of FLL in Britain. The message was that we had now actually been invited to represent Wales in the World Festival in St. Louis, Missouri in the USA. Edward quickly rushed to phone Ben and Joe about this information. We were going to America, to the highest you could go in the FLL, with the best teams from all over the world. But we knew this would mean even more work.
So this brings us up to today. We are currently preparing for the competition on the 26th to the 29th of April. This both involves the preparation for the challenge, and to get funding. This is definitely the furthest we have got to so far in life, representing a whole country abroad. Currently, the team is spending all spare time we have, whether it is after school, or lunchtimes to work on both the robot game and the project. We really want to do well in this competition and after 3 years of hard work, we want it to pay off.