Seattle’s Innovators Assemble for LEGO’s Build for Good

LEGO Build for Good Competitors. All Photos: Kelly Knox

It’s amazing the number of ways our kids inspire us. From the little things like just saying a kind word to someone who needs it, to the incredible creations that are born from curiosity, kids can do marvelous things. Twelve-year-old Shubham Banjeree is one such kid.

After spotting a flyer at his house asking for donations for the visually impaired, Shubham wondered, “How do blind people read?” His search through Google to find the answer led him along a path where he was astonished to learn that Braille printers cost thousands of dollars. Inspired, Shubham turned to his LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit (along with a few pieces from Home Depot), and in just four weeks created a cost-effective Braille printer he dubbed Braigo.

Shubham Banerjee

LEGO, moved by the 7th grader who combined his love of LEGO with the genuine desire to do something good for people, issued the Build for Good Challenge to seven companies in Seattle. Each company was chosen as one of the most innovative Seattle has to offer: Amazon, Egencia, Expedia, HTC, Microsoft, Nordstrom, and Zulily. The teams were sent EV3 kits and asked to create a robot that “solves a human interest problem.” On Thursday, April 10, at the EMP Museum in the heart of Seattle, the teams gathered to show off their inventions.

Contestants responded with robots that picked up small toys, sorted luggage by color, worked on a model urban farm, and turned on the lights and watered plants in a miniature home. Teams from HTC and Microsoft considered the challenges facing mobility impaired young people, and invented a selfie-taking robot and 3-D version of Zoo Tycoon respectively.

Zoo Tycoon Robot

The Microsoft/XboxOne team gathered the most onlookers at the event, with a large team and fantastic, colorful setup that included three different robots and a custom Windows Phone app to play the game and control them. Team Xbox was motivated by the desire to help kids who are unable to hold or manipulate a game controller. Their entire project took 150 hours over three weeks of work with the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kits.

NORD1

It was underdog Team Nordstrom that won the grand prize, however. NORD1, the team’s brainchild, was built with kids in mind to add a little bit of fun when it’s time to take their medication. Parents simply direct the robot to deliver the pill, and it finds their child and dispenses the medicine automatically. Once delivery is complete, the robot enters “party dance mode” set to the tune of El DeBarge’s “It’s Johnny.” This Short Circuit flashback was enough to win over everyone the audience over the age of 30, but when NORD1 belted out a good ol’ “EXTERMINATE,” I suddenly had a clear favorite.

Team Nordstrom was awarded five LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kits to donate to the children’s charity of their choice. Among the judges were Shubham Banjeree, who still stole the show with Braigo, even among so many incredible inventors and their creations.

“We continue to be amazed by inventors of all ages who utilize the Mindstorms platform to express their creativity, building everything from robotic pets to robots that solve real life needs, like Shubham’s inventive Braille printer,” said Michael McNally, senior director of brand relations for LEGO Systems. “In the spirit of these LEGO Mindstorms inventors and inspired by today’s competitors from Seattle’s elite companies, we encourage children around the world to put their ingenuity to work through play to creatively build a better world.”

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Kelly Knox is a freelance writer in Seattle, WA, where she contributes to local parenting magazines. She also writes for StarWars.com, Geek & Sundry, and more. You can find crafts and art projects for geeky families at her blog The St{art} Button.