Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Kids! Interview with the Landroids Team, the 2010 MoonBots Challenge Winner

By Kasey Dallman, Amazing Kid of the Month Columnist

MoonBots is a global educational contest. The competition partnered with major technology leaders to create simulated lunar rovers, using LEGO bricks and MINDSTORM components, to have a competition for privately funded teams to build a rover to land on and explore the surface of the Moon. More than 200 teams from 16 nations representing every continent but Antarctica registered for MoonBots.

Team Landroids of New Jersey, a group of five 8th-grade neighborhood friends who participate in various science competitions and robotics challenges, was named the grand winner of MoonBots. As part of their reward, the team will travel to LEGO’s world headquarters in BIllund, Denmark to tour the LEGO factory and meet with company executives. Winners were selected by a team of expert judges. Let’s see how this award-winning team rose to this challenge.

AK: Who are the members of the team including their age and position (team member, coach, etc.)?

Landroids:

  • John Yeh (age 46): Landroids’ MoonBots Challenge Team Captain, Robotics Coach.
  • Karlin Yeh (age 14): Lead Robot Designer, Builder & Lead Programmer
  • Stanley Cheung (age 14): Strategist, Sensor Testing, Programming, Video Editing, Electronics
  • Gage Farestad (age 14): LEGO Digital Designer, Graphic Rendering, Video Editing
  • Jeffery Dong (age 14): Documentary, Video Editing & Final Compilation
  • Brian Lee (age 14): Sensor Testing, Programming, Electronics

In addition, we also have a coach and new members that were not on the MoonBots team.

  • Pearl Hwang (aging): Project/Judging Coach and Team & Website Admin.
  • Sam Yang (Age 15): new member starting September 2010 for FIRST Tech Challenge; FTC Robot Builder & Driver
  • Vijay Manon (Age 14): new member starting September 2010 for FIRST Tech Challenge; FTC Robot Driver, Parts Management

AK: How long has each member of Landroids been involved in robotics?

Landroids: Landroids started as a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team in August 2007 when the
members were in 6th grade. At the time of the MoonBots challenge 2010, we had about 3 years of FLL experience.

  • John Yeh – 3 years as a Robotics Coach of FIRST LEGO League (FLL)
  • Karlin Yeh – 4 years
  • Stanley Cheung – 3 years
  • Gage Farestad – 3 years
  • Jeffery Dong – 3 years
  • Brian Lee -2 years
  • Pearl Hwang – 3 years as a Project/Judging Coach of FIRST LEGO League (FLL)
  • Sam Yang (new member) – 1 year in FTC with a different team
  • Vijay Manon (new member) – 3 years in FLL and 1 year in FTC with a different team

AK: How did you hear about MoonBots Global Education Contest?

Landroids: When Karlin and our coaches were in Atlanta, GA volunteering at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in April, 2010, the MoonBots had a field exhibition set up there to introduce the contest, but they were too busy to notice it. It was not until all FIRST teams received an email blast later that month providing more details about the contest that we became aware of MoonBots’ existence and decided to take on the challenge.

At that time, our team just submitted a science competition called the eCYBERMISSION at the end of February, we had a little time on our hands. So we thought, why not use this opportunity to play with the HiTechic sensors that are not allowed in FLL? That was the main motivation for us to sign on to MoonBots. However, later on, when our team was advanced into the next competition stage in both eCYBERMISSION and MoonBots, our spring and summer schedule became chaotic.

AK: Who inspired the members of Landroids to get involved in robotics?

Landroids: Karlin was the one who got us all involved. His parents have been taking him to see the NJ FLL State tournament every year since 2002. The whole team (except for the 2010 new members) had been friends since kindergarten. So each year, some of us would go with Karlin to go see the tournament and we would buy the same FLL t-shirts to wear to school every Friday. Karlin’s parents had been asking our schools to start a FLL program since 2002, but with no luck. So in 2006, Karlin joined a robotics training center team and competed in FLL for the first time. He was thrilled by the experience, but sad that no one else in school shared his passion. However, when his parents found out that the FLL competition had a research project component but the robotics center team did not put any emphasis in it, Karlin’s parents decided to start and coach a FLL team themselves in 2007. So that summer, Karlin called up the same group of friends to join, and that was how we started the team Landroids. We have been hooked with the same passion ever since.

Landroids started with seven 6th grade kids, but due to the work load and other extra-curriculum activities, some members have dropped out since then. Meanwhile, Brian wanted to join the Landroids in our second season, but we have no space at the time, so his dad formed a FLL team for him. However, Brian wanted more challenge, so once there was an opening at the end of 2009, Brian immediately signed on and worked real hard through the eCYBERMISSION and MoonBots challenge.

Then immediately after the MoonBots challenge, Jeffrey resigned because he got transferred to a private school with tons of homework. That’s when we accepted two new members, Vijay and Sam. The entire team of 6 members, now mostly in 9th grade, proceeded to the FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) division in September 2010, to take on the bigger robots.

Meanwhile, due to Landroids’ success, more and more kids in our community are interested in robotics. We formed a club called Livingston Robotics Club, helping other neighborhood and school teams to form, and pass on our experiences. Today, counting both school and neighborhood teams, our town of Livingston has 7 Jr. FLL teams, 7 FLL team, and 2 FTC teams, which all started with one kid who was passionate about something that everyone else thought was just child play.

AK: Does the team have any mentors that help them?

Landroids: Typically, for the FLL research projects, we look for mentors to teach us new knowledge. For example, one year, when learning about beach erosion, we had an Army Corp of Engineer, and a meteorologist talk with us. When we were learning about deer avoidance, we spoke to our town and county executives to figure out how they dealt with deer related accidents and the type of resources spent on this problem.

For MoonBots, since it was an off-season competition, it was just our coaches to oversee our work. Our robotics coach/MoonBots team captain, Mr. Yeh, is a computer engineer, so he knows some robotics and other related topics. He would teach us the basic programming, electronics, wood working, and buy whatever sensors, materials or LEGO parts we need. There is no set curriculum. Whenever we needed certain knowledge to do something, he would teach us then. However, we still have to figure how to actually do those tasks by ourselves. Our other coach, Mrs. Yeh (Pearl Hwang) deals with team management, scheduling, reviewing our work, preparing us for the judging session, and making sure we stay focused and on track. Neither coach builds or programs the robot, knows any CAD drafting, or does any research for us. However, our coaches help us find the resources to learn from, teach us technical and life skills, transferring pictures, videos files between computers, and keep a real tight review on the stuff we put on YouTube and on the websites. If what we did was lacking quality or content, or they don’t understand what we wrote, they ask us to fix it.

AK: What was the concept for the Landroids robot for the moonboot competition? Describe the project and the competition.

Landroids:
Background on MoonBots

Moonbots is an international competition that challenges teams of a maximum 6 members (ages 9 to 18) including one adult team captain, to design LEGO robots that perform simulated lunar missions. This is the younger version of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, which is designed to enable commercial exploration of space while engaging the global public.

A total of 212 teams from 16 countries around the world entered into this competition. These countries include the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Poland, Australia, Bulgaria, Belgium, India, South Korea, Macedonia, Spain, Mexico, Peru, Jamaica, and Columbia.

Sponsored by Google Inc., LEGO System, National Instruments, and Wired’s GeekDad, this is a free, web-base competition to stimulate learning of robotics and team building while exciting young adults about the moon race and lunar exploration. It encourages the uses of Google SketchUp, LEGO Digital Designer, National Instrument’ LabView, and Google’s YouTube as platforms to present and simulate how the teams will design, build, program and operate their robots using LEGO MINDSTORMS robotic kits to go to the moon and perform a series of required missions.

Phase One started on April 15, 2010 and continued for about 6 weeks. Each team submitted a robot design proposal using LEGO Digital Designer, a video essay on the reason for lunar exploration, a team webpage location, and team blog or video blog entries. Judging is based on originality, creativity and technical merits.

Phase Two was from the end of June, and was about 2 months long. Twenty (20) finalist teams were selected and given a 7.5 ft x 7.5 ft LEGO Moonbots mission field to proceed with the actual robot design. Submittals included the robot design and construction using LEGO and Mindstorm NXT, a 3 to 5 minutes long team documentary video, a team blog or website, and a 3 minute live webcast of the robot missions to the judges through Skype and an on-board video camera.

The simulated moonscape consisted of a 2-1/2” tall spiraling ridge which divided the field in half. On each side of the ridge, there were craters that contained the scoring objects in the shape of loops (representing the precious water and Helium 3), along with hundreds of loose pieces of LEGO blocks dispersed inside the craters, and there were also other loops scoring objects placed on the field. To tackle the LEGO moonscape, the robot has to be able to pick up loops, maneuver the rough terrain, and use various sensors to navigate, without coming back to base until the end of the 3 minutes time.

Landroids’ MoonBots Season
Our team developed two different robot designs for ways to pick up the scoring loops. One was with double claws, the other one consist of a simple fork with a wrist like joint that can flip the scoring objects into the collection hopper. Both designs had a similar robot drive train that consisted of wheels, tank treads and skis that allowed the robot to turn accurately and still be able to climb over the lunar ridge. The claw design was later abandoned due to its clumsiness.

Meanwhile, the navigation control was accomplished with a compass sensor to detect the robot’s bearing, an EOPD (Electro Optical Proximity Detector) sensor to sense its location on the ground level, and a pair of ultrasonic sensors to wall-follow the boarders and know when to stop. Programming was done in LabView as we hit a code size limit on the NXT-G programming language. All the robot design, programming and sensor testing etc. were done by team members, not by the adult team captain.

For our video essay and our documentary video, every member had to do the research, discuss the format of the videos and compile the script. Everyone first picked a topic that they were interested in and researched that part and wrote that portion of the script for the Phase 1 Video Essay. For the Phase 2 Video Documentary, it was just to tell our friends and families what our team did during the four month MoonBots season.

Like any other teams, there were obstacles we faced during the MoonBots challenge. One was to give up an elaborate claw design and learn when to let go of something that does not work well and make compromises on what is achievable within the deadline. The other one was that we lost all of our programs a week before the deadline, which was very painful, and we had doubts if our team would be able to meet the deadline. At the same time, due to summer vacation, two of our members were out of the country that week.

Also, we didn’t know how to make a real exciting video with lots of special effects, so we kept trying different video software. In the end, we settled on just telling our Moonbots season as-is without any acting, green screen or elaborate editing, accepting that the creativity part was our weakest link, but hopefully that all would average out to still give us a chance. We worked 12 to 14 hours a day to rewrite all the codes in a new programming language and posted the video in time.

Throughout this MoonBots journey, the part that was the most unusual was to be able to see what the other teams were doing from their weekly website postings. There were so many good ideas and quality work that we could learn from each other, it made this competition extremely unique and accelerated everyone’ learning curve.

AK: What are the future goals for members of the Landroids team, both personal and professional?

Landroids:
Karlin: I want to go to MIT and maybe study marine engineering. I would prefer to be a field scientist or engineer, focus on the application side of the challenges.
Brian: I want to be an engineer, though I don’t know what kind. Technology is vital for mankind to progress, and I want to help.
Stanley: My future goal is to be able to become an engineer. Being in Landroids, I realize how impacting and innovative an engineer is. Working in a robotics team definitely helps that. But for now, I want to also try to maintain a good balance between high school, sports, and Landroids.
Gage: I am interested in aerospace engineering and architecture but I’m not exactly sure at this time.
Jeffrey: I need to focus on my studies in my new private school in order to get into a good college, so I left Landroids right after the MoonBots competition.

AK: What other accomplishments (academic, personal, etc.) do the members have?

Landroids’ Team Key Accomplishments (2007 – 2010)
– 1st place international Google X PRIZE MoonBots challenge – September 2010
– 1st place 8th grade national eCYBERMISSION science research competition – June 2010
– 1st place Champion’s Award, WPAFB Founder’s Award, 1st place Alliance Award at FIRST LEGO League US Open Championship – May 2009
– 1st place NJ State Robot Design Award – 2009
– 1st place NJ State FLL Champion’s Award – 2007, 2008
– 2nd place Robot Design and 3rd place Robot Performance Awards at FLL World Festival – April 2008
– Hosted the annual Liberty Science Center robotics exhibitions – 2008, 2009, 2010.
– Wrote, compiled and presented a 5-week, 10 hours long, “Kids Teaching Kids” FIRST LEGO League workshop to train new teams. This PowerPoint training material was translated to Thai to train 20 new Thailand FLL teams in their country’s first year participation in FLL – summer 2009

Karlin:
• School Gifted and Talented program
• Silver Satori Award in Cognetics contest 2008
• MA US O’pen Cup sailboat racing, ranked #10 in under age 12 – August 2008
• MA US O’pen Cup sailboat racing, ranked #2 in freestyle – August 2009
• Sculptures and artworks displayed in Livingston art shows 2007, 2008
• Illustrator and contributor to Heritage Middle School Newspaper 2009
• Essex County NJ Fishing Derby winner 2006 to 2010
• 2008 Essex County fishing record holder of 100 fish in 100 minutes
• Solar car building and racing 2008
• Sports: windsurfing, sailing, mountain biking, skiing
• Honor Roll

Brian:
• School Gifted and Talented program
• Silver Satori Award in Cognetics contest 2007, 2009
• New Jersey Regions and All-State Orchestras, 2009
• Won several county and state math competitions
• Sports: tennis
• Music: cello
• High Honor Roll
Stanley:
• School Gifted and Talented program
• Silver Satori Award in Cognetics 2007-2008
• Bronze Satori in Cognetics 2008-2009
• Solar car building and racing 2008
• Math Counts
• 1st in my class for the American Mathematics competition
• Sports: cross country running
• Music: violin
• High Honor Roll

Gage:
• Speaks Chinese better than Karlin
• Solar car building and racing 2008
• Sports: hiking, camping
• Music: viola
• Honor Roll

Jeffrey:
• School Gifted and Talented program
• Eastern Zone Swimming Competition 2008
• Play violin in NJ Youth Symphony 2006-08; concert master assistant in Sinfonia Orchestra, and play first violin in Chamber Music 2008
• Grade 4 merit certificate in Theory of Music from Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM) 2009
• Sports: competitive swimming, tennis
• Music: piano, violin
• High Honor Roll

AK: What does the Landroids team want others to know about robotics? What do they want peers to know about the importance of technology?

Landroids: We want other kids to know that robotics can be a fun and exciting journey to learn about the field of science and technology. It’s not about the battle-bots (which is the first thing that comes to people’s mind when they think of robotics competition). Robotics is about creating something to help humans to go places where we can’t go for various reasons. It is a field about machines that move and are made to perform tasks. It has a very promising future and can become a major factor in factories, construction, military and even biomedical engineering. It can also replace dangerous jobs that could be fatal for humans to do. Robotics is very important in our lives today and will be even more so in the future, as technology develops and human labor is replaced by machines and robots. Robots can do tedious tasks humans don’t want to do and can survive more extreme conditions than we can. With more problems facing us today, like climate change and food shortages, the solution will lie in better technology.

Also, you don’t have to be a genius to learn about robotics, you just need the ambition to work hard and have fun. The person who has the highest GPA does not guarantee that he/she would be the best engineer. To be able to use what you learn and actually apply it is more important in the real world. Getting more kids to participate in a science related challenge has always been more difficult than finding kids to do sports. However, this is a “sports of the mind”, the more you practice, the better you will be at it. All you have to do is want to do it, and your half way there.

We need more kids to know that exploring and being interested in science, technology, math and engineering at an earlier age is important to the success and competitiveness of our nation in the future.

AK: Describe any future project the Landroids are working on.
Landroids: In September, 2010, team Landroids advanced to the high school level robotics competition called the First Tech Challenge, or FTC. Our age makes us eligible to be in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for one more year, but we are excited to try something different. FTC is like an advanced version of FLL, but larger in scale and complexity, and we will need to learn to build with metals, wood, using more sensors and electronics to build a large robot. FTC is harder and more complicated than FLL, so we have to draw on each other’s strengths to get it done. Our focus in our rookie FTC year is to learn the basics first, and worry about scoring the game later. Since we have a relatively small team, everyone will have to be multi-disciplined and be good in several different skills.
In the past, our team also spent a lot of time and focus in science research. However, FTC doesn’t include a project component like FLL, so we might do a science project on the side during the off-season if we have time, just to learn something that the team is interested in.

AK: Anything else the Landroids team would like to add?
Landroids: Landroids was started as a neighborhood play group, and now has become a competitive science and robotics team in 3 years. It took a lot of hard work from the team members, devotion from the coaches, and support for all the team parents. We typically scheduled to meet 10 hours total in 3 days a week, almost year-round, hanging out at our coaches’ house all the time. Often, unknowingly, we could easily put in 10 hours a day on the weekends, which occupied most of our free time. Hard work, time management and teamwork are extremely important. Being on Landroids is definitely a rare opportunity that’s not to be wasted. We try to learn all the skills we need, then go back to see how to score the challenge. It is always a learning opportunity first, winning later. Other teams told us that we set a really high bar for them to reach, but all is good. Somehow getting first place awards do put a lot of pressure on us due to other people’s expectation and perception. So we have to stay focused, knowing that the challenge is on us to learn, winning is a byproduct of hard work and luck, and not taking anything for granted. As long as we do our best, there is no regret.

AK: Please add any related links about the Landroids team or robotic websites.

Landroids:
Team official website: www.landroids.org
Lunar Landroids website for MoonBots: www.landroids.org/lunar
Livingston Robotics Club (the Club we formed): www.livingstonrobotics.org
Team Landroids’ best video collections: http://www.landroids.org/media/video/
Landroids’ Facebook (storing team photos and updates): http://www.facebook.com/pages/Livingston-NJ/Team-LANDROIDS/154832283876?v=wall
Landroids MoonBots win blog and list of news releases: http://www.landroids.org/2010/09/03/landroids-won-grand-prize-moonbots-challenge/
LEGO Mindstorm news release on Landroids’ Denmark trip: http://mindstorms.lego.com/en-us/News/ReadMore/Default.aspx?id=226434

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