CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Bible Center School Brainstormers have been hard at work since August assembling and programming a Lego robot that's designed to accomplish tasks associated with a real-world challenge.
This year, students will explore a variety of natural disasters -- everything from earthquakes to floods. This year's challenge is titled "Nature's Fury."
The BCS team is composed of nine members and is coached by three parent volunteers who have no previous experience in engineering or other scientific fields.
The Brainstormers are participants in the FIRST LEGO League, an international robotics program in which teams of young people assemble and compete robots. More than 228,000 children, ages 9 to 14, from more than 80 countries will participant this year.
It is projected the U.S. and Canada will have 14,600 teams compete.
Out of the 69 teams in West Virginia, 60 of those will be competing this year. The State Robotic Tournament will be open to the public 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Fairmont State University's Falcon Center.
The teams have to build, test and program an autonomous robot using the Lego Mindstorms programming software to solve a set of missions on an obstacle course.
At BCS, Brayden Jett is the brains behind the programming.
"We have to program this robot to navigate the course," Jett said. "We need to make sure it does everything we want it to do. Sometimes it doesn't work and I have to tweak things. I like computers and it's all fun."
Jett is only 12 years old and has already found an interest in computers and computer programming. His goal is to program the robot successfully in order to take his team to the top.
The course, or playing field, features a variety of obstacles. The obstacles simulate natural disasters. For instance, the robot is to hit a trigger that releases a supply plane, cylinder-like Legos that represents a tsunami and a stack of Legos that represents an earthquake.
The team has to program the robot just right or face penalties when it veers off course and needs to be reset.
The team's robot, named Junior Instrument Machine (JIM), has big wheels that make it easier to travel over obstacles. A brick is placed on the side opposite the weight of the motors to balance the main wheels better. The robot's skinny wheels help keep it straight but doesn't cause a problem when turning.
It's quite complicated but these kids know what they're doing.
Nathan Arnett, a parent volunteer who helps coach the BCS team, said there is a guy in Connecticut that builds the playing fields each year. There's a new theme each year and every competing team has the same field.