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Arizona FIRST LEGO League teams shine in international competitions

Battle Bots AZ FLL team
June 04, 2013

Two of the top teams of middle school students involved in the Arizona FIRST LEGO League (AZ FLL) engineering and science competitions during the past year recently gave impressive performances at international FLL events.

The Battle Bots, a team of six seventh-graders from the Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies in Mesa, Ariz., participated in the FLL Open European Championship in Paderborn, Germany.

Block of Ages, a team of eight home-schooled students from Tempe, traveled to LEGOLAND in California to compete in the North American Open Championship.

Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering has been administering and organizing the AZ FLL program since 2008 and hosting the AZ FLL State Championship Tournament at ASU’s Tempe campus each December.

In 2012 about 2,500 youngsters throughout the state got involved in the program designed to ignite interest in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among students aged nine to 14 years old.

A record 300 student teams participated in the program’s qualifying tournaments, including a growing number from small and rural communities.

A record 56 top-performing teams (involving almost 500 students) earned their way to the 2012 State Championship Tournament.

At tournaments, teams are judged on their technical skills in designing, building and programming robots (constructed from LEGO MINDSTORMS robotics kits) to perform specified missions autonomously, and for the innovativeness demonstrated by their proposed solutions to societal challenges in areas such as technological challenges, energy, health care and environmental stewardship.

Block of Ages won the 2012 AZ FLL State Championship Tournament. Battle Bots finished as the second runner-up.

Block of Ages placed 16th at the recent North American event among 74 teams from throughout the United States, Canada and Korea. The team showcased the results of its project to develop a mobile blood pressure monitoring system.

The students created design plans – complete with a written manual – for a wristwatch that measures a user's blood pressure twice a day and electronically records the data on an online database. Doctors, users and family members would have access to this database to track day-to-day health indicators.

The team also put together a marketing plan for the device and is exploring if it can be licensed.

Block of Ages’ project has been about more than technical achievements, says team coach Andrew Lux.  What began as a group of students attracted to building and operating robots has become a close-knit team of youngsters committed to developing real solutions to problems, he says.

At the European event, competing against 54 teams from 35 countries, the Battle Bots took a second-place award in the research category and 10th-place in the robotics category with its Arthritis Relief Glove project.

The glove provides vibration, cold, heat and application of ointments to carry out a variety of therapeutic treatments used to bring physical relief to people living with arthritis in their hands.

In the course of their efforts, team members have exhibited “a much more collaborative spirit, and they have grown to be more passionate about the project and the problem” of living with arthritis, says Battle Bots coach Kimberly Merlene, a Mesa Academy science teacher.

The team is constructing a website to promote the Arthritis Relief Glove. Look for it soon at

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is an international endeavor founded by renowned inventor Dean Kamen to spark youngsters’ interest in studying and pursuing careers in science and  engineering fields.

Leaders of the Battle Bots and Block of Ages say the AZ FLL program is succeeding in fulfilling that mission.

If the youngsters were polled about which of them wants to be an engineer, said one team member, “It would be everybody.”

Written by Natalie Pierce and Joe Kullman