LEGOs go way beyond the playroom

DeKALB – The eight members of Plastic Masters are preparing for natural disasters.

“Each of the boys has picked a natural disaster that they are going to be researching,” said Bruce McKendry of DeKalb. McKendry’s son, Bradley, 11, is a member of the local LEGO robotics team.

Plastic Masters are part of the First LEGO League, which consists of more than 20,000 members in more than 70 countries. The competitive teams can have up to 10 members from ages 9 to 14, and have at least one adult coach. Teams use LEGO Mindstorm computer modules to program LEGO robots to perform simulated real-world tasks on a tabletop scale.

The theme of last year’s First LEGO League competition was Senior Project. Teams had to program their LEGO robot to maneuver around a 4-by-8-foot printed map provided by the league and to perform a series of 14 tasks with simulated household items also made of LEGO blocks.

One task in the timed competition was to retrieve a green LEGO medicine bottle from a selection of bottles of other colors.

“You are supposed to design a robot that can go down, find the green one, and bring it back,” said Joe Merryman of Sycamore, whose son Nicholas, 11, is on the team.

“You get teamwork, cooperation and competition skills, and it’s a lot of fun to learn robotics,” said Seth Wickens-Walther, 11, of DeKalb.

Another part of last year’s competition was to come up with a concept for a technological device that could assist senior citizens. The team came up with TTWACA, The Thing Without a Cool Acronym, a small GPS-enabled device that could help seniors find lost eyeglasses. The team prepared a presentation for the judges and was awarded points based on their presentation skills.

Unfortunately, partly because the team did not form until two months before the December competition, Plastic Masters did not earn enough points at the regional level to advance. However, the team is already looking forward to this year’s competition.

“We are going to do a lot better because we know what we are doing now, plus we had a late start (last year),” Bradley said.

The team can begin programming its robot on Aug. 28, when it receives this year’s tabletop map, details about the tasks related to natural disasters, and project-specific LEGO parts. No non-LEGO parts can be used in construction of the robots, not even rubber bands.

For more information about Plastic Masters, contact Carol Walther at 815-517-1624. To inquire about starting a new team, contact First LEGO League at

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