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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hudson Valley FLL, and Time Warner Cable To Host FIRST LEGO League Robotics Tournament for Local Elementary and Middle Schools

Archival photo by Argenis Apolinario


Media Relations

December 6, 2013

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hudson Valley FLL, and Time Warner Cable To Host FIRST LEGO League Robotics Tournament for Local Elementary and Middle Schools

Area Middle School Students Set To Tackle the Topic of Natural Disasters With Innovative Solutions This Weekend

When it comes to addressing natural disasters, what ideas can young students offer? Just ask the 14 elementary and middle school teams from the Capital Region that will compete in the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Regional Qualifying Tournament on December 7 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. More than 140 students have been working together to use their imaginations and creativity in combination with science and technology to seek ways to solve natural disasters — a significant global challenge that impacts the places people live, work, and play.  

The global FLL competition is being brought to the region for the eighth time. The program kicks off with the opening ceremonies at 9:25 a.m. in the Darrin Communications Center (DCC), room 308. Immediately following, the robotics competition begins and culminates with a closing ceremony and awards presentation beginning at 3:30 p.m.

As part of this year’s challenge titled, NATURE’S FURY℠, more than 228,000 children from over 80 countries will explore the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves, often known as natural disasters. Teams will discover what can be done when intense natural events affect populated areas.

“This year’s challenge required teams to choose a community – nearby or far away – where a natural event could cause a natural disaster,” said Paul Schoch, associate professor in the Rensselaer Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering department, and director of the university’s Center for Initiatives in Pre-College Education (CIPCE). The CIPCE works with area teachers and students to promote the use of robotics in the classroom. “Teams are encouraged to do research and then create an innovative solution to help keep people and property safe, before, during, and after a natural disaster.”

“According to the United Nations, natural disasters have affected nearly three billion people worldwide and caused nearly $2 trillion in damage since 2000,” said President of DEKA Research & Development Corporation and FIRST  Founder Dean Kamen. “Coming up with their own ideas to prepare for, stay safe during, and rebuild after natural disasters empowers kids to make a difference and to feel ready if they learn about or face a natural disaster in the future.”  

“The topic of natural disasters is an excellent – and in some cases personal – theme for students to address,” Schoch added. “In the last two years, areas of the Capital Region were affected by Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. In most cases, the top priority of disaster response is to save lives. Projects likes this can help students to learn ways prepare, adapt, and respond to a natural disaster. Students love learning about something that is part of their life, and this competition encourages them to see the connections that such issues have to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.”  

In addressing the NATURE’S FURY Challenge, FLL collaborated with organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, the National Weather Service, and other specialists to create a theme and challenge missions that reflect real-world issues.

Schoch said students from the Capital Region and around the world have been tasked with researching a real-world scientific issue, which also serves to show students how responders, lawmakers, scientists, emergency managers, engineers, and other groups can work together to find solutions. 

As part of the challenge, FIRST LEGO® League teams of up to 10 children, with adult coaches, are evaluated in four areas, points scored on a themed playing field, the robot design, core values of the team and a presentation of a research project. Robots are tasked with completing missions related to positioning an evacuation sign, clearing an airplane’s runway of debris, landing a cargo plane safely on a runway, relocating structures, distributing water to people in need, and delivering supplies.

This year’s event is made possible through a partnership between Rensselaer, Hudson Valley FLL, and Time Warner Cable, which has co-sponsored the event for the last three years. Through the Connect a Million Minds Initiative, Time Warner Cable is committed to providing exciting, hands-on opportunities for kids to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math. 

Participating teams are from around the Capital Region. The tournament provides elementary and middle school students with an opportunity to understand common themes that connect science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“After eight intense weeks, the competition season culminates in high-energy, sports-like tournaments around the globe,” Schoch said. “This weekend, teams of children guided by their volunteer coaches will demonstrate their problem-solving skills, creative thinking, teamwork, competitive play, sportsmanship, and sense of community. We’re proud to host this competition because events like this not only help students to bring technology to life through their hands-on participation, but it can also inspire them to consider future careers as scientists and engineers.” 

This year’s tournament supported by more than 75 volunteers — including Rensselaer students, faculty, and staff, along with area students from high school robotics teams — puts eight weeks of research, design, and programming to the test, giving local students the chance to participate at the FLL World Festival, to be held in conjunction with the FIRST Championship, April 23-26, 2014 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri.

Past FIRST LEGO League challenges have focused on topics that included: aging, food safety, oceanography, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, climate, quality of life for the handicapped population, and transportation. In the 2014 FLL WORLD CLASS Challenge, more than 230,000 children aged 9 to 16 from over 70 countries will redesign how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century. Teams will teach adults about the ways that kids need and want to learn. 

FLL is a partnership between the LEGO Group and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 by inventor Dean Kamen to motivate young people to pursue careers in science, technology, and engineering. FLL is the middle school component of the FIRST Robotics Competition, an international contest that teams professionals and young people to solve an engineering design problem in a competitive way. For more information, visit:

View the NATURE’S FURY robot game video featuring robot game designer and engineer Scott Evans: