Hurricane warning systems, wrist-watch style gadgets that predict tsunamis and cages that can protect crops in Ghana from flooding were just a few of the devices designed by teams of children competing in this year's First Lego League Championship on Saturday at Nashua High South.
The theme of this year's competition was "Nature's Fury,'' and teams competed in challenges that involved designing emergency devices and equipment to help people respond to different natural disasters. Teams also developed and built robots capable of negotiating an obstacle course with different emergency scenarios.
"The kids are able to learn so much more, and in more depth," said Susan Chan. She had just watched her two sons, who were on Nashua's Birch Hill Elementary School team, present to the judges their early hurricane warning system, which can fit in any window. The presentation included a skit and a finale, with the entire team pulling out recorders and playing a few notes of a theme song.
And Chan said it's not just the background they get in technology and robotics design that's impressive.
"A lot of credit goes to the team managers and coaches who help them learn how to collaborate and develop their interpersonal skills," said Chan.
Each team picked a real world problem tied to a specific community or region and researched its causes and effects. Students located and interviewed experts in the field before designing solutions that could help people prepare, stay safe or rebuild in the wake of a natural disaster. And according to Judge Eric Heffron, some of the devices designed in years past have led to patents.
The Flying Geeks of Nashua's Christian Academy developed an emergency road clearer that would be the envy of most public works departments in New Hampshire.
"On the front are two chain saws," explained team member Ryan Desaulniers, who added it would be helpful during the ice storms that fill roads with broken tree branches.
A member of the Creative Bricks, a team of home-schoolers from Manchester, knew the head of an orphanage in Ghana. The team researched a perennial problem of crops lost to floods and designed a portable frame with panels to protect plants.
"It's made mostly with bamboo, and it's angled and tied with rope," explained team member Peter Haber.
Teams were also focused on the robotics game, which involved building robots with motion, light and sound sensors that were capable of working through an exacting obstacle course of hazards.
Winners of the Nashua championship will be invited to compete at the world championship in St. Louis, Mo., in April.
Many of the adults at the event were awed by the amount of work the teams put in and the level of sophistication of their ideas and designs. More than one parent admitted to not doing anything close to solving the problems of natural disasters when they were 12.
LouAnn Cormier and Jessica Griffin were the coaches for the Pembroke team, Chaotic Robotics, which was made up of two sets of brothers and one younger sister, the team mascot.
Cormier said she and Griffin didn't have too much to do with the actual projects, which she said were really challenging.
"We just really let them go at it," she said.