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Robots bridge gaps between young and old Allison K. Sampité | Sat, Aug 11 2012 12:00 PM

A few Chula Vista students are using robots to connect with senior adults.

Through First Lego League, children and teens compete against each other to build a robot designed around a specific topic.

The competition exposes students to potential career paths while incorporating science, technology, engineering and math principles.

This year the topic is Senior Solutions, which is designed to improve the quality of life for seniors by helping them stay independent, engaged and connected.

RobotRockStars, a co-ed group of eight elementary and middle school students, decided to develop a concept to help seniors care for their pets.

In April the team helped deliver food to seniors through Meals on Wheels.

Scott Way, 42, is the instructor for RobotRockStars.org, which is in its second year. Scott and his wife Sarah have a daughter and son in robotics.

“We started a neighborhood (program) ourselves for kids that we knew would really benefit from this program,” Scott said. “We run it out of our garage.”

Similar to organized sports, teams fundraise to go on field trips.

In July the team traveled to Irvine to visit seniors at Atria Wood­bridge, an assisted living community, to see a workshop created by one resident to encourage others to pursue their hobbies.

Al Ladine spent his life building missiles and rockets, but now builds robots and other models. The students brought robots with them and spoke with Ladine and other seniors about First Lego League and their project.

Scott said while robotics competition is a year-round activity, competition occurs at the end of the year.

Students must implement specific elements into the challenge, including a robot game and project while following league core values.

Students design a self-directed robot using the Lego Mindstorms robot to solve a set of missions on an obstacle course and score points in the competition.

“We build the robot early on and continue to refine it as it gets closer to the tournament,” Scott said.

In the meantime the team has already built two robots.

“The dog robot has a sound center and follows whoever’s voice is called,” 11-year-old Noah Glick said. “One program is where the dog twists its head, it can find a person, wag its tail and bark.”

Students also built a golf robot.

“We have these tiny little tees and plastic Lego balls that we hit with the golf (arm),” said Kevin Kappes,10.

Simon Way, 11, said the core values of teamwork, inspiration, professionalism and service have helped him grow as a person and make new friends.

“I’ve learned more about how I can be helpful and be part of a team,” Simon said. “I’ve learned more about the construction of objects.”

Many of the students are interested in becoming scientists or engineers.

“He wouldn’t really opt to go to school, but this is something he enjoys doing and it holds his interest,” Sarah said of Simon. “It has sparked an interest in learning that might have otherwise not been sparked if pencils and papers were his only learning avenue.”

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