BRIDGEWATER, NJ - On Nov. 17, Bridgewater-based BananaBots Robotics Club participated in First Lego League (FLL) qualifying tournament held at Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School, and brought home the Robot Programming Award.

The team also selected to advance to North NJ Regional FLL Championship, scheduled Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 at Mount Olive High School.

A popular international robotics competition for students ages 9 to 14, FLL has over 29,000 participating teams worldwide. FLL teams conduct research on a scientific topic, and design/program LEGO Mindstorms robots to complete many tasks in the robotics challenge.

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BananaBots was formed in 2017 as a 4-H robotics club. Its members, most of whom are BRMS students, meet regularly to hone their skills in robotics, programming, research and teamwork under the guidance of the club's teen coach, Ethan Wu, a junior at Bridgewater-Raritan High School and an expert in robotics.

The club members are Andy Cheng, Tony Lu, Rohan Dugad, Rohan Dham, Alex Hu, Peter Lin, Jerry Liu, Jeffrey Wen and Ryan Wen.

This year, to prepare their space-related Into Orbit project, the team did a considerable amount of research with the focus on growing plants in space, in order to produce food and oxygen for astronauts and purify waste water. To demonstrate their solutions, the team built a physical prototype that used 3D-printed planters and an Arduino/LED platform that provides controlled lighting.

During the technical interview on the competition day, BananaBots impressed FLL judges with their advanced programming features, such as MyBlocks that significantly simplified coding by reusing predefined functions throughout the entire program. On the robotics competition field, they performed well despite some unexpected interference. Countless hours of building, coding, testing and debugging paid off, and the team ranked third place in robotics game among 24 participating teams.

The biggest reward for the team is the valuable experience of working together as a team. BananaBots elected its own team captain and area leaders to manage work flows and activities for the competition. They did all the work on their own under high-level guidance from coaches.

This is the second year that BananaBots participated in FLL challenges. In 2017, the team won the Project Innovative Solution Award for a creative design to reduce the lead level in school drinking water.

To learn more about the club, please visit www.bananabots.club.