Robots rule at LEGO League tournament on Saturday

Hundreds of 9- to 14-year-olds from across the state will guide robots that plant tiny trees and operate miniature wind turbines and hydro-dams to tackle a big environmental issue during this weekend's FIRST LEGO League at Tennessee Tech University.

Sixty teams will bring their creative solutions to one of today's most critical environmental issues -- energy management and conservation -- to TTU's Memorial Gym on Saturday. More than 1,000 participants, parents, coaches, volunteers and spectators are expected at the event.

"These teams have been working about eight weeks to research, design and program their robots for this competition," said tournament co-director and TTU engineering professor Ken Hunter. "Each team will be trying to earn a trip to the world competition, but what they will all gain is experience with teamwork, problem-solving and troubleshooting."

For the tournament, students design, build and program fully autonomous robots using the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System to master missions presented by a different challenge each year. Using LEGO building elements, electric motors and sensors, teams build, program, and test their fully autonomous LEGO robots capable of completing various tabletop missions.

Organizers collaborated with professional and education organizations as well as an independent consultant that specializes in issues including energy, environment and green design, to create a theme and missions that are reflective of today's real-world issues.

Local teams participating are the Power Devils from Jackson County Middle School, the Yellow Jackets from Baxter's Cornerstone Middle School, and five Cookeville teams: Avery Trace Middle School Raiders, the Discovery Depot's Lego Legion, Brick Brigade and Robot Regiment, and the independent Hot Wired team.

Team members must take on specific roles and responsibilities during the challenge. Judges will grade the teams at the competition on how the robot performs on the table and on how team members work together in their preparations and project presentations.

The tournament is co-sponsored by Tennessee Tech and UT-Battelle. Winners will receive $1,000 from the Tennessee Society of Professional Engineers toward travel expenses to the FIRST World Festival.

The public is invited to the free event that begins at 9 a.m. For more information, contact Hunter at 372-3175.