On Sunday Dec. 15, the cafeteria at Mentor Graphics in Wilsonville housed engineers much younger than the norm. Students fourth through eighth grade congregated in the cafeteria — which was dubbed "the pit" — before their robot performance matches.
Over the course of two days, 32 teams competed in the Intel Oregon FIRST Lego League qualifying tournament for middle school robotics, hosted by Mentor Graphics. Most teams were from towns in the Portland metro area like Tualatin, Oregon City, West Linn and Wilsonville though some teams came from further south, representing Gervais, Keizer and Silverton.
This year's theme was "cityscapes." Teams were tasked with presenting robots that addressed the issues cities face.
Steve Geisler, tournament director, said Mentor Graphics has been hosting this event for 15 years.
"The overall purpose is to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) within middle school," Geisler said.
He said although teams compete against each other, the tournament also fosters an environment where students help each other achieve their own individual goals. He calls it "coopertition," a combination of cooperation and competition.
Teams are scored in four different categories — robot performance, project judging, design judging and core values judging — and the six teams from each day with the highest cumulative scores qualify to compete at the state level.
Robot performance is scored by using the team's highest score of three matches. Each match lasts two and a half minutes and the goal is to complete as many challenges or "missions" as possible in that allotted time. The robots are pre-programmed and function autonomously.
At the start of each match, two people from each team will walk up to their game table and position their robot in the starting corner. The timer starts and the robots move freely, trying to accomplish their pre-programmed missions.
Lake Oswego's team, "Invention," was comprised of six fourth grade girls from Rivergrove Elementary School. Manjiri Mccoy, the team coach, said the team had been preparing for the tournament once a week since July.
"Ours is a rookie team, so they're just here to have fun," Mccoy said.
Still, by the end of the day, the team had placed fourth and qualified to compete at the state level in January.
Teams from Wilsonville and West Linn were also present.
Wilsonville's neighborhood team, "No Name Nerds," had six participants in fifth and seventh grade. After their practice round the team said they felt nervous for the three robot performance rounds but that they were there to have fun. They hoped to be able to complete two missions during their two and a half minute match.
No Name Nerds placed sixth, qualifying them for state as well.
The members of West Linn's team, "Beach Chickens," were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and yielding rubber chickens. The team has a sixth, seventh and eighth graders, all from Rosemont Ridge Middle School.
During their practice round they learned one of their missions was coded incorrectly and they hoped they could fix it for their first round.
Their robot was designed as a solution to a lack of mobility in the homeless population living in cities. The team called it a "Tiny Car," which looked like a tiny house on wheels.
The team's coach, Chris Meigel, said the team met once a week after school for two months in preparation for the tournament.
The team did not place for the state tournament.
The Championship Tournaments will be held Jan. 18 and 19, 2020 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro.
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