Nano Quest challenge allows teams to explore the world of robotics programming

Participants in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Regional Lego League Robotics competition Saturday tweak their robots on a practice table.  U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp.

Participants in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Regional Lego League Robotics competition Saturday tweak their robots on a practice table. U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp.

Austin Williams, a member of the Sparbots from Athens,  makes an adjustment to his robot during the robotics competition at Robins Air Force Base.   U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp.

Austin Williams, a member of the Sparbots from Athens, makes an adjustment to his robot during the robotics competition at Robins Air Force Base. U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp.

Domenic Daponte of the Shadow Tigers from Marietta resets his robot during first-round competition at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Regional Lego League Robotics competition.   U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp.

Domenic Daponte of the Shadow Tigers from Marietta resets his robot during first-round competition at the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Regional Lego League Robotics competition. U.S. Air Force photo by Sue Sapp.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Building robots with Legos may seem like child's play, but for Middle Georgia students participating in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Regional Lego League Robotics competition building robots is all about nanotechnology.

The competition held at the Museum of Aviation combined the ability of robots to complete missions as part of a competition with applications of nanotechnology in everyday life. Nanotechnology is studying and working with ultra-small matter.

Smart Medicine was a mission where the students attempted to deliver the Buckyball containing medicine to the arm bone that required the medicine. The mission illustrated how with nanotechnology, medicine could be delivered to a specific area rather than waiting for the medicine to circulate through the body.

The regional competition, which was sponsored by STARBASE ROBINS, allowed students ages 9 to 14 to test their problem solving skills using math, science and technology.

"The challenge deals with nanotechnology, an emerging science itself," said Wesley Fondal, STARBASE ROBINS director. "The teams have to design the robot to meet nine different challenges."

The students are judged on three rounds of robot competition, a nanotechnology presentation and team work.

"They have to find a problem in the area and come up with a solution and present it to the judges. They also have to explain how and why they built the robot they did," Mr. Fondal said.

Six of the 16 teams that competed at the event qualified for the state competition at Georgia Institute of Technology.

The event began with teams attempting to maneuver robots through the challenges. The Robopandas from Jackson Elementary in Jackson, Ga., started off the first round strong, moving molecules and completing challenges. Paige Crumbley, 11, and Kaitlyn Moore, 10, spent much of the first round encouraging their fellow teammates. "We got it. We got it," repeated the pair in unison as the team completed each maneuver.

One of their team members, Levi Campbell, 10, said his favorite part of the robot is the claw and the way it can throw the bone.

Another team who shined during the first round was the Nanodiamonds. Though the two-man team, Arjun Patra, 9 and Sargun Vohra, 11, wasn't as successful in the first round as they hoped, they didn't let anything slow them down as they attempted to complete the Nanotube strength challenge. The mission objective was for the robot to move a truck onto a lift frame, where a thin cable of nanotubes could lift the truck. The mission helped the students understand how carbon atoms can be combined to form carbon nanotubes of cable and support weight much larger than the cable.

The pair said they went through several different robots before settling on this one for the competition. "It's a lot more stable than the other ones. It can turn; the ones we built before couldn't really turn," Arjun said.

Sargun said "the arms on this one are really good and we needed them for four of the nine missions."

One strange sight during the robot competition was the appearance of some Doogie Howser M.D. look-alikes. Many members of the Pegos team from Dalton, Ga., sported doctors coats as they prepared for their nanotechnology presentation. The team did a skit where Thomas Delay, 10, would lose his foot to frost bite because he chose not to take advantage of Toasty shoes, which use nanotechnology to protect feet from frost bite.

"My favorite part is the fake foot," said Sam Dyer, 10.