FLANDERS, NJ — Four qualified teams from the Livingston Robotics Club (LRC) were recenty part of 80 top teams in Northern New Jersey to compete in the North New Jersey FIRST LEGO League (FLL) State Championship at Mt. Olive High School in Flanders. All four teams from Livingston swept the top awards, including the first place champion award.

The state championship was held in two days that was broken down into four parts. On the first day, teams were judged in robot design presentation, innovative project presentation, and core values. On the second day, each team had three rounds to run their robot on the competition table to perform missions.

The highest score of the three rounds for each team became that team's score for the robot performance part of the competition.

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The LRC teams and their awards were presented as follows:

Team Flame Machines:

Flame Machines—a second-year FLL team that consists of sixth and seventh graders from Livingston and Millburn—went into the competition with its Newark Airport innovative project and robot in a high team spirit. 

According to the LRC, the team members "showed great confidence in themselves" during the two-day journey across three judging sessions and three table games. 

Their robot and attachment design, together with their persistence in design evolution to score missions, earned them first place in the Robot Mechanical Design category.

“This is our second time coming to the state championship game, and we feel more at ease than last year," one team member said. "Competing with the other 79 best teams in New Jersey is such a great experience."

After walking out of the Core Values judging room, another member said that the team collaborated well in its "core values game" and was "truly on fire.”

Team Cerebellum:

The Cerebellum Team—which includes three Heritage Middle School students from Livingston—won the second-place "Inspiration" award at the state championship out of 80 robotics teams.

The team had previously won the first place award for the Innovation Project for its "On Demand Sky Capsule" project, which is a new mode of transportation, during the FLL qualifier held at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale. 

"It is such an honor to receive recognition at the state level for Inspiration considering how tough the competition was," said team members Alicia Gupta and Bhairav Lekkala.

All team members reflected on how far they have come in terms of their core values, presentation skills and execution of robot missions.

Team Thingamabot:

As the recipient of the first-place innovative project award on “waterless toilet” at the FLL qualifier last month, Team Thingamabot put a focus on its innovative project in preparation for the state championship by meeting with the Livingston Mall management and visiting American Standard headquarters in Piscataway.

“Our project was a self-sustainable toilet that ran on no water," said Olivia Mei from Heritage Middle School. "We presented our ideas to the Livingston Mall and the American Standard New Product Design team. They were very enthusiastic about our concept.”

On the second day of the competition, Thingamabot ran into an issue with the robot’s tires, causing the robot to fail in the first two rounds. The team members needed to come up with a quick fix before the third round. 

“Our tires were consistently skidding, and we thought about putting rubber bands on the tires," said Mei. "Unfortunately, we only had two, so we asked Exit 6, and they kindly lent us multiple rubber bands which helped with our final run, giving us the most points that we had received for the entire day.”

The help from Exit 6 Robotics was not uncommon in this competition as it is one of the key features of FLL where competitors are encouraged to help each other to promote collaboration even with a fierce competition.

Thingamabot ended the day with the second place Project Presentation Award.

Exit 6 Robotics:

Although a rookie FLL team with five boys, Exit 6 Robotics (E6R) was not new to competitive robotics. The team competed in another robotics competition called VEX IQ (VIQ) for two years and was the VIQ NJ State Champion in 2017, advanced to VEX Worlds in 2018 and CREATE US Open Championships in 2019, where the team won the Middle School Design Award.

For this FLL effort, E6R brought on Armaan Lerner from the Long Hill Robotics VIQ team.

In the two years of intense VIQ competitions against each other, the two teams had developed a strong respect and easy friendship that made joining forces a logical step. Still, switching from VEX to FLL was quite a challenge. As fortunes would have it, the team was able to add an FLL veteran, Aalok Dhurandhar from Team Adroit, whose core members had aged out of FLL.

The state championship competition involved innovative project, robot design, core values and robot performance judging.

E6R received the high scores in all areas and received the first place Champions Award for the North New Jersey State Championship. The team was one of the two teams at the State Championship to be invited to compete at the FLL World Festival in Detroit in April 2020.

Reflecting upon the season, Heritage eighth grader, Aalok Dhurandhar, stated that this was "a whole new experience" for him.

"Even though I have done this in the past, it still felt like the first time I was competing," he said. "As a rookie team this year, expectations were not high. We prepared very hard and put in many hours. As the hours built up, we gained confidence in our ability to perform at the competition. We tried our best to have as much fun as we could, but we were all nervous. After the first day, we felt more confident after our morning judging sessions went well. When we won the Champions Award, we were all shocked and elated.”

Armaan Lerner, a seventh grader at Central Middle School in Stirling added that it was "a really cool experience to be with so many other kids that all have the same interest" in robotics. 

"I especially enjoyed seeing the creativity in other team's projects and robot designs, but most of all, I enjoyed the fact that all of us were able to share the work we had done," said Lerner. "I liked seeing solutions other team's had for the City Shaper Challenge and I was proud to share our solution too. I really hope other kids take part in First Lego League because we all learn something new.”

Ryan Lam, a seventh grader Heritage Middle School, said that he "really enjoyed interacting and talking to other teams" at the state competition.

"I learned more about the other teams and what we need to improve," he said. "I was able to expand my knowledge of not just other teams but also our team's personalities. After winning the title of State Champions, we look forward to learning more as we prepare for Worlds.”

Tyrus Yung, a Heritage eighth grader, said he once thought that transferring from VIQ to FLL would be a very difficult challenge due to "learning new building pieces and new programing software"; but as time went by, he said he learned the pieces and "got comfortable enough to make a complex program."

"My FLL experience was the best out of all the robotics competitions I have done in the past," said Yung. "It’s not because we won and are advancing to Worlds, but it is because of the memories. As a team, we have grown and become close friends not just in robotics, but in our everyday lives. I like the team because everyone has a few talents, but when put together, it can make an extraordinary group of collective skills.”

Heritage eighth grader Varun Sohal added that attending the FLL state competition was "a really good experience."

"We were able to interact with other teams and learn how they solved the tasks at hand," said Sohal. "Everyone’s hard work was reflected as many teams did really well at the competition. People were having a lot of fun and kept their heads high even if their robots weren’t performing the best. I’m looking forward to the FLL World Festival to see what amazing solutions other people came up with.”