Robots made of Lego’s, built and programmed by teams of young students competed at the  FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) robotics tournament. November 19, marked Google’s sixth year hosting a qualifying tournament at Google headquarters. This year, 16 Bay Area teams made up of 9-14 year olds participated, energizing Google’s campus with their enthusiasm.

The center of the action during tournament day was the two ping pong-sized tables where these homegrown robots raced against the clock to complete various physical tasks, all related to the tournament theme of food safety. The tables were covered with small “props” the robots would need. For example, at one point, the robots had to scoop up, carry and then empty dispensers of little plastic “bacteria” into a miniature plastic sink at the opposite end of the table. Referees in black-and-white striped shirts started and stopped the clock and kept their eyes out for penalties while the MC gave play-by-plays of the action.

Photo from OfficialGB
Photo from OfficialGB

When not competing at the tables, teams met with three different sets of judges. One panel of judges asked students about their robot (how they designed it, how it worked), while another set asked about core values (how they worked together as a team, the learning process, camaraderie). In front of the third set of judges, the teams presented their research projects and answered questions. The research project, while unrelated to robotics, aims to incorporate research and problem-solving—keys to the success of any real-world engineering team—into the competition.

It’s important, not to mention fun, to support creative outlets for young people to get involved in computer science and technology. Competitions like FLL introduce a whole new generation to the world of technology and engineering, and it’s always a blast to support the students who are participating.

Seven teams advanced to the district championship, which will take place in Redwood City, Calif. in January. Eventually, the tournament reaches the national, and then international level.

If you want to get involved with FLL, you can check the website to find out if a team exists in your area, or register a new one.