Week 2: What is FIRST Lego League (FLL)?
Learn more about FLL
I’m Gabi Chen, another one of the founding members of #PandaPower Robotics. I’m a sophomore at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View and started in FLL when I was in 5th grade. I’m really excited to be able to help new and growing teams learn more about FLL and have similar experiences to ours.
For our second post, I wanted to focus on the most obvious question, what exactly is FLL?
What is FLL?
Ok, if you’re here, you probably know a little bit about FLL. But I’ve found that the system can be a bit confusing to rookie teams, so here’s a quick summary of what you really need to know:
First Lego League is a robotics league for 9-16-year-old kids. Around 30,000 teams compete around the world in this competition. The competition consists of two primary sections: a (semi-autonomous) robot competition and a "project," which is similar to a science fair competition.
The competition is famous for the semi-autonomous robot game. As an example, here’s what a run of the #PandaPower robot looked like last year.
As you can see in the video, there is a mat with about 15 tasks made solely from Legos. A few key notes:
Your robot must be built entirely from Lego parts
You can only touch the robot while it is in the semi-circle (”Base”) or on the wooden side of the board close to where the robot technicians are standing (”Home”), after that it must be autonomous
You have two and a half minutes of playing time where you have to score as many points as possible
The second part of the competition is the project. Every season, there is a theme that both the robot game and the project follow, but this is especially important for the project. This theme determines the prompt area for the project. Teams are given a broad area of research, where they are asked to find a problem and propose a new solution, or revamp an existing solution.
Teams build all kinds of things, from apps like Playar.ai for a city/infrastructure prompt to physical prototypes like a tennis-ball sized water conservation tool for a water-related prompt. You can read more about past international innovation project winners here, or watch this video of our project from last year:
The season consists of a topic/material drop in early August, and then 3 levels of competitions
Qualifiers: this is the first level of competition. All teams are welcome to attend, and the top 4-5 teams from each competition advance to the next level. There are hundreds of qualifiers around the nation.
Regionals: the second level of the FLL competitions for teams who impressed the judges at the qualifier competitions. There are generally about 40 teams at each regional event, and most regionals get to nominate 1-2 teams to be entered into a raffle to attend the World Festival.
World Festivals and Invitationals: this level of competition is made up of a couple hundred teams from all around the world. There are 2 world festival events per season (usually in Detroit and Houston), and then a bunch of other international invitational tournaments (everywhere from Greece to LegoLand). They’re really fun and highly prestigious!
If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry. While some teams choose to aim high to win competitions, many teams just participate for fun. You’re sure to learn a lot, and have a lot of fun, regardless of what you choose.
Forming a team: Do’s and Don’ts
Obviously, all we want for people competing in FLL is for them to have fun. But it’s also nice to be able to be productive and present something you’re really proud of for the judges. We’ve compiled a short list of Do’s and Don’ts for new teams:
When forming a team DO,
Pick diversely skilled people - FLL is such a hodge podge of a competition, meaning that there are so many unique parts that have to work together to make a successful result. So pick people with lots of different skills, maybe someone’s really good at doing in-depth research, someone is really creative and artistic, and someone enjoys working with robotics.
Make sure someone has the space to have a full robot game setup - this one is kind of a given, but you wouldn’t believe the number of teams that have to go searching for places to put their table after they have made a team.
When forming a team DON’T,
Just pick people because they’re your friends - FLL is a great way to meet new people, and we’ve found that a team made up of people who are just looking to turn FLL meeting times into playdates makes for a frustrating season for people who want to see a result embodied in the shape of a trophy. You don’t need to be best friends to make a team, but you do need to be able to work together.
Add everyone you know - we’ve found that between 3-5 kids is the perfect number of people for a team. Anymore and people just get distracted to easily, and any less means that everyone has to take on a lot of work.
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