LEGO Robotics

Alex Tash, left, and Grayson Barnes set up a scenario for their robot to run through.

Randy Metcalf/The Explorer

With some hard work and determination, one local fourth grader along with his friends and some of the residents at a local retirement community, formed a LEGO Robotics team.

And that little team took second in regionals and went on to compete on the state level in the FIRST LEGO League.

Grayson Barnes, a 13-year-old who attends Green Fields Country Day School, has had an active interest in LEGO Robotics since he was in the fourth grade. Each year he tried out for the team at his school. This year, due to too many team members, he didn’t make the team.

For the next two weeks, he repeatedly told his mother, Lisa Barnes, that they should put together a team. 

Grayson found a friend from school, Alex Tash, 13, and together they found another friend, Jacob Waitt, 12, and formed a team with the minimum number of team members allowed. Lisa bought the LEGO Robotics kit and the next thing the group needed was a place to hold its tri-weekly practices.

Lisa’s mother, who recently died, was a resident at The Fountains at La Cholla, and thought that location would be the perfect place hold the practices.

“We approached the executive director (and asked) if we could have part of the craft room and to give it a try,” Lisa said. 

Every year, teams must also complete a research project. This year’s research project dealt with senior solutions. The team aptly named, N2O2P (Never Too Old To Play), decided they would also research the strength of senior’s hands, and possibly increase their mobility by having them build with them.

The residents wanted to be a part of the team and watch the activities, but didn’t want to participate. However, after about a month, the seniors and the students found a common ground. The students worked, as the seniors were there to help talk through ideas and give provide moral support.

“We found that being in a retirement community, when the seniors were in the lab, everything calmed down,” Lisa said. “The kids were calm, I was calm and there was another set of eyes looking interested and excited.”

The research on hand strength didn’t pan out, but the kids and the residents gained more than they expected.

“It became something so much bigger than I could have imagined with the friendship and the caring,” Lisa added.

With that support, the team spent months preparing their programmable robot to perform tasks. 

All of the tasks consist of queuing up a program, and then letting the robot go out, complete any number of tasks, and then return to the starting point. While the robot is running it’s program, it does anything from rolling a ball into pins to taking a block of LEGOS and leaving it in a predetermined location.

A large portion of the project is trial and error process, and with that came times of frustration. One of those times was early on prior to purchasing a pressure-based sensor for their robot. Without that sensor, the group had to start their robot in the exact same spot every time, or, after a few programmed turns and maneuvers, the robot would no longer be where it was on a previous run.

“It is frustrating and we had some arguments when we were working and programming on different ways to do things,” said Alex.

Grayson agreed.

“It’s hard not to (argue) when you have so many different things going wrong,” he said. “It just ups the stress level a lot.”

It was times like these when the physical and mental support of the residents helped.

“The moral support really calmed every one of us down and kept us focused,” Alex said. “I feel bad for the other school teams because they don’t get as much support in general from the people in the community.”

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