Can they build it? Yes they can!

Members of the Hurricanes (front row left)

Members of the Hurricanes (front row left)

Victoria-area Lego team qualifies for world Lego event in St. Louis

Things were a little tense as the Hurricanes, a team of nine boys from Greater Victoria, put their computer-controlled Lego robot through its paces.

On a four-by-eight-foot plywood track in a gym at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Burnaby, the robot they spent four months building – they called it the Hornet “’cause it’s black and yellow” – had to perform a number of tasks in less than three minutes.

The robot, equipped with light sensors, had to pick up a Lego figure and move it to a designated spot, pick up a Lego cast and place it on a Lego bone, and place a stent inside a blood vessel, also both made from Lego.

The boys’ creation performed flawlessly at the Vancouver Island qualifying match in early December, but at the provincials held two weekends ago at BCIT, it wasn’t doing as well.

“The table was way lower than expected and slightly askew,” said assistant team coach and Oak Bay businessman Rob Jennings, whose son Mason is on the team. “On the first run they got half of (the points) they expected.”

On the second go-round, the robot bumped off side rails and failed to complete all its tasks. But on the third run everything came together.

“They did everything in record time, got the highest score and went from number 5 (of 16) to, ping, number 1! It was like Seabiscuit,” Jennings said.

From April 27 to 30 the boys will be in St. Louis, Mo. competing in the 2011 World Festival hosted by First Lego League. The global program, sponsored by the toy giant, aims to get kids interested in science and technology. The Hurricanes are one of three teams representing Canada.

The theme for all of this year’s Lego League tournaments is bio-medicine. In a kind of science fair-cum-engineering competition, teams of nine to 14 year olds work through two projects.

Team Hurricane, made up of home-schooled boys from Saanich, Esquimalt and Victoria, researched anaphylactic shock and designed a wooden prototype alternative to the Epi-pen, one without needles or Lego parts.

But it’s their second project, the robot, that cranks up the excitement level inside a team member’s Saanich basement, transformed at least temporarily into the team’s engineering lab.

Using Lego supplies provided by the company, a computer program, a track table and structures common to all teams, the Hurricanes came up with a design for the robot.

How did nine boys do so without any arguments?

“Sometimes we’d go outside, have some blackberries and have a vote,” said Saanich resident Mason Jennings, 11. “Other times we just agreed on it.”

Esquimalt resident Sean Degerness, 13, admitted the team’s first competition, held in Duncan Dec. 4-5, was a bit nerve-wracking. “But after we’d been there half a day we got used to being in front of a big crowd.”

Teams can gather up to 400 points based on how well their robots perform tasks. In addition to a research project presentation, the team must perform a skit telling the story of how its research project might work.

To promote themselves, the boys produced two brochures, built a website and posted a YouTube video of their win in Vancouver.

Asked whether they are nervous or excited about heading to St. Louis for the world championship they shouted in unison: “Excited!”

To learn more about the First Lego League team from Greater Victoria, go to www.hurricanes.blog.com. Check out the team’s video at www.youtube.com/user/thefllhurricanes.

<i.vmoreau@oakbaynews.com