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4-H LEGO robotics team to compete at state

The members of the “Masters of Disasters” team: (left to right) Hunter Churchill, Brendan Kahlstorf, Thomas Lane, Grant Parajuli, Caden Parajuli and Steven Lane (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Steven Lane readies the team’s LEGO robot “The Master” to perform a series of tasks to rescue a LEGO family and push an ambulance to safety. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)2 / 2

Their name may be Masters of Disasters 2.0, but the teamwork between six Duluth students on the 4-H LEGO robotics squad is anything but a disaster. On Feb. 8, this group of local teens were on their way to compete in the state robotics tournament in St. Paul against 65 other teams from around the state.

“It’s just amazing how well they’ve come together,” said team coach Ward Lane.

The team is made up of six students from: Thomas and Steven Lane, Brendan Kahlstorf, Caden and Grant Parajuli and Hunter Churchill. The students come from different backgrounds as three of them are home schooled, two attend Holy Rosary and one goes to Marshall.

Lane and his wife Margie, the parents of Steven and Thomas, are the main coaches for the team, but all the parents have been involved in one way or another.

“It was well worth giving up our dining room to set up the challenge table for five months,” said Ward Lane. “The boys have learned a lot about teamwork, weather disasters and how difficult it is to build and program a robot that does its job consistently.”

The LEGO Robotics competition is hosted by High Tech Kids, a statewide organization that hosts FIRST LEGO League competitions. Teams of youth between nine and 14 years old from around the country are issued a new challenge each year. On September 1, they begin working on their robots. This year’s theme was “Nature’s Fury,” requiring the teams to research severe weather.

In addition to building and programming a robot to do a complicated series of tasks for points, they also need to devise a solution or invention that will help solve a weather-related problem, create a presentation and share their research with the judges.

The team chose a very familiar disaster theme for their board; a mega snowstorm hitting Duluth. Was this season’s early December snowstorm an inspiration?

“We’d already picked the theme in November when the December snowstorm hit, but it definitely helped,” said Lane.

The students did research on blizzards and talked with area experts for ideas for their LEGO board and to create their invention. They talked with a retired firefighter,

a tow truck driver, an outdoor survival instructor and toured the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Center on Miller Trunk Highway.

“So why did they chose the name “Masters of Disaster 2.0”

“Because the topic this year is disasters and we are the masters of the robot,” said Thomas Lane.

“Also our robot is called “The Master,” added Caden Parajuli.

The team won first place in the Innovative Programming category at the regional tournament and plans on entering a national contest around an invention they’ve devised to help people stranded in bad weather. Their idea is a red flashing light that can be extended from a car window to alert a passer-by of someone stuck inside a car covered in snow. The boys present their idea in a short sketch that shows two people stuck in a car literally “blanketed” with snow. Several of the boys said that this sketch was their favorite part.

“It’s amazing how much the kids get done in just a few months and their level of dedication,” said 4-H coordinator Valerie Coit. “We have two other 4-H LEGO teams that met this year, too, and all of the kids and parents involved make a huge commitment to come to practices, do work at home and go on field trips. I think it really pays off though, with all that the kids learn and gain from the experience.”

The Southern St. Louis County 4-H Program has been leading LEGO Robotics groups for local youth for four years. They’ve had teams advance to the state contest, three out of the four years.

The first place winners will receive an invitation to the FIRST Lego League World Festival in St. Louis. However, the boys joked that they hope to win second place and instead receive an invitation to the North American Open held at LEGOLAND in sunny Carlsbad, Calif.

After all, their invention is to solve a disaster in the snow, not to experience another one.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

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