Aurora -- First Lego League teammates Colin Weil, Emily Kerensky, Kameron Fry and Ethan Ellis, all Harmon School seventh-graders, recently demonstrated how a robot they built and programmed could help prevent natural disasters on a vast playing board filled with obstacles replicating aspects of natural disasters.

Kameron explained how the robot uses Google sensors and touch sensors to detect marks and obstacles on the board. In turn, it strategically makes its way around the board, pushing tsunami waves aside and flinging residents in its back compartment to safety.

FFL is a global robotics program for 14- to 16-year-olds that is designed to help students build teamwork and other valuable life skills. Teams of two to 10 members are required to build and program a robot, run it over the playing board to complete tasks for points, and give presentations that involve experiments and in-depth research.

Outside of competition, the teams build and program robots with the Lego Mindstorm Robot set. They also practice presentations and gather research. However, during competitions they must complete timed tasks in front of judges and answer questions.

The four seventh-graders mentioned above, as well asHarmon seventh-graders Alex Willingham and Kiran Illindala, formed the FLL team called Slightly Different and won the Ohio Ambassador award this season, which is given to those who demonstrate exceptional FLL core values.

"The core values are to be a good sport about things, be nice to other people, and learning is more important than winning," Emily explained.

Slightly Different Coach Randy Ellis said the award encourages the team to spread knowledge about FLL and inform others of its values. The team plans to attend area fairs and talk about FLL in different classrooms.

"We've had fun being an ambassador team this year and spreading the word," Colin said.

TEAM members agreed there are many more aspects to FLL than building and programming robots.

"I like the robot part of it -- like programing, building and running it," Kameron said. "But there's also the presentation, and that's really fun as well because you get to use your imagination and think about real-world problems."

This season's theme is "Nature's Fury" and deals with natural disasters. Slightly Different has focused on flooding issues and gathered research from an array of experts, including the University of Akron's polymer department.

Instead of utilizing sandbags during a flood, the team concluded rapid installation polymer bags would be of better use. Ethan Ellis said the bags are lighter, weighing 4 pounds compared to a typical sandbag weighing 40 pounds. The polymer bag also expands greatly on contact with water.

"We used sodium polyacrylate, which is a polymer that expands on contact with water," Colin said. "Basically, the bag absorbs the water and, in a sense, makes itself bigger so it can stop the water."

The team said the polymer bags are efficient because after a flood, they will shrink down to their original size and can be used again.

The team's preparation and dedication paid off in winning the Ohio Ambassador award along with a torch trophy made of Legos. The members agreed when their name is called during competition, they enjoy hearing "And the winner is ... Slightly Different."

Randy Ellis said all the members' unique differences make for a strong, creative team.

Slightly Different was recently invited to compete at the First Lego League International Open Championship from June 4-7 in Toronto, with 72 teams from around the world.

The members also said they are shooting to make it to the national FLL competition based at Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif.


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