Local youth take first at international robot competition

Thursday, June 8, 2006

ThisWeek Staff Writer

A team of children from Delaware, Westerville and New Albany recently took part in the First Lego League International Robotics Competition in Atlanta, Ga., where they placed first and received a second place director's award.

"We had to design a robot to complete challenges within two and a half minutes," said Michael Vawter, 15, of Westerville.

The robot was made of Legos, was less than a foot high, and included a place for computer software. Vawter said the students used a computer to set up the software that would make the robot complete the different challenges. The software was then placed in the robot.

During the International competition, the team, called the MindStorm Troopers, had several practice rounds to test their robot's time completing the challenges. A team from China was impressed with the MindStorm Troopers robot and asked a lot of questions about how the MindStorm team built it.

"We got to meet a lot of people from other countries," said team member Michelle Vawter, 12.

The MindStorm Troopers team is made up of Michael and Michelle Vawter, Sophia and Joseph Gebert and Mark David Wright, all of Westerville; Laura Webb, 12, and Timothy Webb, 14, both of Delaware; Jennifer Geiger, 11, Cassandra Geiger, 12, and Grant Geiger, 10, all of New Albany. The team was coached by Ed and Gail Vawter of Westerville.

After winning first place at the Columbus State Community College Regional Qualifying event in November, the MindStorm Troopers won first place at the Ohio First Lego League State Championship in January in Dayton.

That win earned them an invitation to represent Ohio in the international competition. Only 82 of the 7,500 teams worldwide were invited, including teams from Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

This year's theme was an Ocean Odyssey and all challenges related to that theme. Cassandra Geiger said the robot had to climb into a shipwreck and retrieve items. It also had to pick up a model submarine and return to its base with the ship.

Michelle Vawter said the toughest challenge was picking up 12 mapping flags from the course.

Michael Vawter said the team was judged on the robot's performance, the technical review and presentation and the team's research paper.

The paper detailed a way to retrieve natural gas from the ocean without damaging the ocean floor. The gas could then be used as an alternative fuel for gas-powered vehicles.

Cassandra Geiger said she learned a lot from the research project, which the team presented to state legislators. Laura Webb said she also learned from her contact with the legislators. On May 24, the team was introduced in the Ohio Senate and received a resolution to take home with them.

The team is expected to present its research paper findings to the Senate's energy committee this month.

For its trip to Atlanta, the team was sponsored by Honda of America Manufacturing, the Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research, the Ohio Educational Outreach Foundation, American Electric Power, Westerville Electric, Westerville Rotary, NOW Software and others.

All of the children on the team are home-schooled.

Gail Vawter said her family began the team several years ago because of her son Michael's interest.