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Sandy Journal

Bionic Porcupines III compete at world Lego competition

Jun 28, 2018 02:11PM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

The Bionic Porcupines III compete on the world stage in Houston against 108 teams for FIRST Lego competition. (Mark Snauffer)

By Keyra Kristoffersen | [email protected]  

A Sandy team of middle school students, the Bionic Porcupines III, represented Utah at the World Festival FIRST Championship in Houston, Texas in April. 

“Basically, what this competition is where young people go and build a Mindstorm robot using purely Legos,” said team member Katie Drennan. 

The team is made up of Eric Snaufer, Allie Drennan, Katie Drennan, Timothy Holt, Kassie Holt and Carter Lechtenberg. The team coaches are Mark Snaufer, Ben Holt and Annie Drennan. 

The robot must perform a series of tasks such as pick up a ball or carry something. Robots are programmed to complete these tasks over a four-foot by eight-foot challenge map and must be done completely autonomously. The teams can only handle the robot during competition from a small corner of the board and they’re judged on how well the robot performs the chosen tasks in the time limit. The teams can choose which series of 18 tasks to program their robot to do with points based on a sliding scale of difficulty. 

“We try to learn from previous years from ideas teammates have had before and try new things once we see the actual tables,” said Katie. 

The Bionic Porcupines III chose to program all 18 tasks just to be on the safe side. 

“This is kind of unique because it’s pretty hard to do that,” said Snaufer. “The robots have their own personalities.” 

The teams are judged on how well and quickly their robot performs at the missions and how well the teams use sportsmanship within and without the team in outreach to the other groups from around the world, what they call “coopertition.” 

“You know that you are competing but you’re still doing it in a friendly way,” said Katie. 

Over 100 teams compete from all over the United States and around the world from countries like Turkey, Philippines, Israel, Brazil, Africa, Australia and many others. 

“It was really fun — some of the teams didn’t speak (the same language),” said Allie. 

The Bionic Porcupines III created buttons welcoming the competing teams to the competition in several languages. 

The cost to get to the competition in Houston can be rough for some teams, so the Bionic Porcupines III used GoFundMe and found sponsors throughout the corporate community. 

“Our coaches have a lot of connections,” said Alllie. “Some of the other teams in Utah donated for us to go and that was great to have another team support us like that.” 

Annie Drennan, one of the coaches and mother to Allie and Katie, began like Mark, coaching teams when her children got involved in FIRST Lego League teams in school. 

“This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” said Drennan. “There were teams from all over the place. It’s really fun to all be together in the same purpose.” 

The Bionic Porcupines III won third place in robot strategy and tied for 12th in the robot game. 

Each year, FIRST and Lego come up with a real-world problem the competitors must find a solution to using their robots. This year it was water, and each team had to come up with a way of conserving, moving, disposing or cleaning water. 

The water project led the team to design a water conservation app that will start with Sandy residents and then move outward thanks to AquaHawk and Orbit Sprinklers. The app, currently available for download, is made up of 46,000 lines of code the Bionic Porcupines III mostly wrote themselves with the help of their tech-savvy coach. 

“We found that education alone doesn’t change people’s behavior,” said Katie. “We’ve talked to lots of different professionals in that field and then Chris Watson, a professor at the University of Utah, who taught us about the gamification process.” 

The team created a personal water usage tracker using a Sandy City water smart meter. Those using Water Bank save more water with minimal effort. The team has been recognized by Gov. Gary Herbert as well as Sandy City for their creativity and efforts at competition. 

Plans are already in the works for next year’s robot competition with the theme of space exploration, which has the entire team excited.