Kabany Flores,9, and Wesley Walker,9, tinker with team Tree Huggers robot
Kabany Flores, 9, and Wesley Walker, 9, tinker with Team Tree Huggers' robot on Thursday. Photo by Dean-Paul Stephens.

Students from throughout Martinsville City Public Schools hope to take the top spot at an annual robotics competition that will test their skills in solving complex tasks and teamwork. 

Scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Martinsville High School gymnasium, the annual First Lego League Robotics regional competition will bring out 11 elementary and middle school teams from Martinsville, and a few more from around the region, to showcase their creations. About 100 Martinsville students will participate.

The event is open to the public. 

“They have to create a robot that can do all these tasks,” said Liz Lynch, a coach of Martinsville Middle School team Absolute Zero.

Student teams design robots to perform a set number of tasks, programmed by the teams.  Teams were also tasked with putting together projects meant to impact the community, known as the Innovation Project. One such project entails creating art supply stations, the contents of which are meant to be used by the public to create more public art displays throughout Martinsville. Other teams have used their projects to tackle issues like pollution and community involvement. 

Both community projects and robots will be judged for an overall score. Successful teams will move on to the state competition, which is held in December. 

Last year, three teams from Martinsville made it to the state competition, and team coaches are hoping for a repeat. 

According to Lynch, Martinsville’s team Absolute Zero has a history of making an impact in the competition. Past team members talked about their experiences on Thursday.

“You just bond so closely to it and everybody has a part in it no matter what your interest is,” said Reagan Wright, 17. “It’s just so fun I keep coming back.” 

Mayti Patel, 17, is another former competitor. She said the spirit of the competition is to foster creativity and teamwork in students via an emphasis on science and mathematics. 

Colby Robertson, 13, and Hudson Grant,13, work out last-minute issues with Team Absolute Zero’s robot. Photo by Dean-Paul Stephens. 

“It was innovative, it got you to think a lot,” Patel said. “It changes your perspective on how you see problems in the world.” 

The competition does this while managing to stay grounded by making Legos the primary material students will use to construct their machines. Both instructors and students spoke to the versatility of Legos as building blocks for more complex machines.  

“What they come up with is absolutely amazing,” Lynch said. 

Hudson Grant, 13, is a member of Absolute Zero this year. The team’s machine goes for the modular approach. 

“It’s called Kelvin,” Hudson said, describing his team’s robot. “It’s very compact, has easily removable attachments. He’s very small, so he can get around the area and not hit things.” 

Katherine Wall, 10, is a member of the Tree Huggers, another team set to compete on Saturday. Its robot has a number of attachments meant to handle different scenarios. 

“Our robot has an attachment named the hugger,” Wall said. “It works a lot. We also have another attachment that is used to push.”

Instructors said they believe that the competition is about more than just who can build the better robot, and said that the process could provide the necessary spark to convince students to join fields like engineering and mathematics. 

“Building a robot is not an easy task,” Hudson said, describing a process of designing and coding and recoding. 

Competition organizers share that sentiment and are expecting each of the team’s designs to shine through. 

“The Innovation Project is really where teams begin to differ, as each is working on something very different,” Martinsville City Schools spokesperson Callie Hietala said.

Dean-Paul Stephens is a reporter for Cardinal News. He is based in Martinsville. Reach him at dean@cardinalnews.org...