In the FIRST Championship, everyone gets their start somewhere and many of the older kids competing in the FTC and FRC competitions came from humble beginnings in the FIRST Lego League and the Jr. First Lego League. But the FLL and Jr FLL are no cake walks. Competition is as tough as in the higher leagues, with an additional challenge. With each Championship, FLL teams not only have to create a series of robots to conquer that year’s game, but they also have to research a problem related to the theme and come up with a solution for that problem.
The theme of this year’s challenge was Senior Solutions and teams were asked to find a partner in a senior citizen in their communities, identify a problem they faced and develop solutions. There were many outstanding projects this past weekend at the 2013 FIRST Championship in Saint Louis. Among the many standouts, were three teams visiting the “Gateway to the West” from around the globe.
From Gujarat, India, Team NXTage considered a major problem affecting their community involving lonely and disconnected seniors. India ranks 2nd in the world in its population of senior citizens, with more than 100 million retired. Team member Srishti Palani describes the problem “Oftentimes, after seniors retire, their status in both their families and society declines. They almost become unwanted in our society.”
To solve the problem, Team NXTage created a three-pronged program to help the elderly and keep them engaged, independent, and connected. “Seniors have many skills to share,” says Shyamal Anadkat, “the more they use them, the less likely they will lose them — and others can learn from our elders.”
The program also keeps seniors independent with a transportation program that provides a ride, along with a student, to get seniors to meetings and appointments. Finally, to keep them connected, the last part of the program is dedicated to sharing moments where seniors and students spend quality time together, playing games, teaching seniors how to use Skype and text to communicate with family outside their homes, and more.
An equally impressive project came from the ancient city of Bath, England. Claudia Moorhouse noticed that her neighbor had a tough time as he aged. His mind was still sharp, but his body wasn’t cooperating and many times he was unable to reach the front door of his home before his visitor gave up and went away.
Claudia’s solution, which she developed with her FLL team, Untitled-1, uses a fingerprint scanner embedded in a doorbell. When the bell is pressed, the fingerprint is compared to a database of known prints. The information can be sent to a mobile device like a tablet or smart phone, television, or phone and the occupant can remotely open the front door from anywhere in the house. The system can also be set to open for certain fingerprints or even time frames, when a delivery is expected.
The interface will include a photo of the visitor (from the database), providing extra information for individuals with dementia or memory loss. Also, relatives or caregivers can be alerted to activity via emails or texts. Finally, the system can be configured to ignore and prevent access from anyone who is not registered, putting an end to any door-to-door sales or other solicitors.
The Untitled-1 system was developed using Arduino and a simple breadboard and the team have been in talks, not only with their local council, but also several companies interested in manufacturing the system.
At the lower rungs on the ladder, Junior FLL teams become acquainted with the competition, but also are responsible for developing a solution for the the Senior Solutions challenge, although not necessarily as executable as the FLL teams’ solutions. Team Idea Club from Louisville, Kentucky, found an answer in Fido, the robotic dog. This fantasy creation would help seniors in many ways, from reminding seniors when it was time for medication, to notifying the elderly when it was time for an appointment, to keeping them active by encouraging exercise, and even socializing with the robotic dog.
When asked if they enjoy the Junior FLL, the response is immediate and enthusiastic. “I like it, but I’m really looking forward to the challenges as we move up [to FLL, FTC and FRC],” says Lucas Nofsinger.