LIVINGSTON, NJ — Three qualified teams from the Livingston Robotics Club (LRC) recently joined the 24 top teams in the region to compete in the virtual North New Jersey FIRST LEGO League (FLL) State Championship and came away with several awards.

Flame Machines, a veteran FLL team and LRC member for four years, received the Champion’s Award, the highest honor in the state championship. This marked the third consecutive year that a LRC team took home the Champion’s Award, which was previously presented to Exit 6 Robotics in 2019 and Exit 5A Robotics in 2018.

The following stories highlight the strength, dedication, resilience and perseverance of the three LRC teams, coaches, mentors and parents during this historic season of robotics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Exit 6 Robotics

The Exit 6 Robotics team, made up of eighth and ninth graders, competed in its second FLL Challenge this year. Although they have competed in various robotics competitions, team members said they have most enjoyed the challenges that the FLL competition presents.

Rather than using the typical FLL robotics system this year on their robot design, EV3, the members of Exit 6 challenged themselves to learn a new hardware and software system, Spike Prime and Python, to build a unique robot for the competition.

“Although we encountered so many ups and downs in designing and programming our robots, it’s great that I now know Python which is a programming language used in the real world,” said Tyrus Yung, a Livingston High School freshman.

The team’s innovative project allows people across all demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds to access sporting equipment so that they can try different sports and live an active, healthy lifestyle.

“This is my first year with the team, and I really enjoy spending time with them," said Arya Deshmukh, an eighth grader at Heritage Middle School and one of the team's newest members. "I learned a lot this year from how to use a CNC to cut and build the project model, to program in Python and to ride a one-wheel.” 

Having fun while learning and competing is the ultimate experience that LRC coaches strive to achieve with their teams every year. 

“I had a fun year with a lot of learning experiences," said eighth grader Ryan Lam. "I was devastated when we didn't qualify for Worlds; but more importantly, I was proud of our team. We made it so far, having to redesign and reprogram our entire robot in two months. FLL is a great experience and I recommend everyone should do it.” 

The Exit 6 Robotics team won the Engineering Excellence Award at the State Championship and first place Innovation Project award in the qualifying round. 

Flame Machines

The members of team Flame Machines ended their final year of the FLL Challenge on a high note by winning the only Champion’s Award in the Northern New Jersey State Championship, attended by the top 24 teams from five regional qualifiers.

Consisting of four eighth graders and one seventh grader, the team had a mixed background entering into this year’s FLL Challenge season. Some members have been participating for five or more years, while others were new to the experience at the beginning of the 2020-2021 season.

For their innovative project, the Flame Machines designed an all-in-one exercise chair for people who spend a lot of time working from home due to the pandemic.The chair earned the attention of judges during the qualifier, which contributed to the team's Champion's Award. 

Team members continued to make further improvements for the state competition, including making four additional models of the chair to better fit the needs of customers after the team surveyed more than 150 people from countries like Canada, Brazil, France, Indonesia and Australia. 

In addition to the exercise chair, the Flame Machines also produced a solid robot, complex attachments, efficient programs and well-planned game strategies, which earned the team more than 400 points in the robot game matches. Combined with an unwavering team spirit finally delivered the state championship trophy as the crowning achievement for their FLL journey.

“It’s not all about the scores, it’s about challenging ourselves with some more fun stuff,” said FLL veteran Shining Wang.

Team members said they were proud of their efforts in tackling the challenging robot game missions—especially the pull-up bar to lift the robot up at the end of the game.

"Doing the pull-up bar is a dream come true for [him]," said fellow FLL veteran Paxton Nithikasem. “There was a similar mission in our first year of FLL, where the robot needs to hang itself over the gecko wall. We got stunned and felt it was the mission impossible, yet we got a similar one tackled in our last year of FLL.”

In addition to the competition, the team participated in many community outreach activities this season despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Flame Machines started the year of 2020 with E-week at Liberty Science Center, then participated in the creation of more than 4,000 face shields for medical workers and first responders when there was an extreme shortage of these protective supplies. 

Over the summer, the Flame Machines engaged local youth by hosting a LEGO drive benefiting kids in need as well as providing free robotics lessons to heighten their interest the STEM fields.

“We simply want to spread our love for robotics to others, broadening the impact of the FLL and its core values,” said Carolyn Zhou as she introduced the team's outreach activities.

Super 5

Super 5, a Livingston-based robotics team that believes in the motto, "Believe you can, and you will," was formed in 2020 and consists of four sixth graders and one fifth grader. 

With schools, sports and other after school activities shut down as a result of the pandemic, the members of Super 5 embraced the challenge of continuing to work on their robot under the guidance and supervision of team coaches Anna Thomas and Aruna Shah as well as mentors and parents.

During the pandemic, the kids built, programmed, updated and constantly worked to improve their robot in order to meet the challenges needed for the competition.

In January 2021, Super 5 participated in the regional competition and emerged as the top team in several categories. In addition to winning awards for the “Best Performing Rookie Team” and “Rising Star Team," Super 5 also advanced into the state championships held on March 13. Out of 22 teams in the state championship, Super 5 earned its place in the top 10 this season. 

For more information about LRC and FLL, visit http://www.livingstonrobotics.org.

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