FIRST Lego League Provides Building Blocks of Robotics Engineering

Golisano Institute of Sustainability sponsors local middle schoolers in Lego Robotics Competition

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The "Lego Lambs", a team of home-schooled 9-14 year olds from Pittsford, win the Champion's Trophy at the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Lego League competition

Imagine: Capturing the UPC code of a food and receiving a text back if the food product is safe to eat based on your personal food allergies.

A new service aims to provide a database to do just that.

Most surprisingly, the project is the creation of the “Lego Lambs,” a team of home-schooled 9-14 year olds from Pittsford, who developed it as part of the FIRST Lego League competition.

The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego League is the middle school equivalent of the FIRST high school competition hosted by RIT each year. “The kids design and program a robot to carry out all of the different challenges,” notes Brian Hilton, senior staff engineer at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability and coach of the Lego Lambs. “It allows the kids to be innovative without being intimidated by new technology. The Legos let the kids be creative without really thinking about programming because the language is so intuitive.”

RIT and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability have sponsored the Lego Lambs and two other home-schooled teams for the past three years to help facilitate a head start in the field of robotics. The institute has supplied the teams with Lego robot kits and important software upgrades.

“I’ve been a coach of this team for four years,” says Hilton. “These are a bunch of future engineering students. They have won a trophy in the robot competition for the qualifying and regional rounds for each of the past four years.”

This year, the team placed first in robot performance and won the Champion’s Trophy at the Finger Lakes Regional competition. The Lambs also helped two rookie teams by sharing their winning programming ideas and techniques.

This year’s theme was biomedical engineering and participants had to determine how technology could interface with a medical condition. “One of their teammates had a food allergy and they wanted to see how they could help out their teammate with technology,” says Hilton. “They came up with texting the UPC code of a food to see if he could eat it or not.” The idea was passed onto NeutriSleuth Inc., which has a similar service for the iPhone; the company loved it and is considering using it in its next software update.

As the first place champions of the Finger Lakes Region, the Lambs are hopeful to be selected as a wild card to attend the World Festival and travel to St. Louis to compete in April.

The FIRST Lego League is a great way to for the kids to face technology without the fear of technology, Hilton remarks.

“We are very thankful that RIT is willing to invest in the kids.”

For more information about the FIRST Lego League, go to