Girl Inventors Rock in College of Technology Youth Robotics Program

When the annual FIRST LEGO League (FLL) program launched at the College of Technology last September, a team of 10 elementary students excited to learn about robotics and computer programming formed Team CyborGirlz. The all-girl team from Regina Caeli Academy in Cypress, Texas would participate in the FLL, a youth robotics competition program that is held in more than 70 countries around the world.

Locally, nearly 2000 elementary and middle school-aged students participate in FLL through school, community group, homeschool and neighborhood teams. FLL teams are required to build and program a LEGO-based robot to run an obstacle course, complete a research project to solve a problem, and complete a teamwork activity.

According to the FLL guidelines, they were to develop an innovation or invention using technology to solve the problem. While Team CyborGirlz built an impressive robot, which performed amazing feats of pushing, pulling and picking up game pieces on the competition table, their research project brought them the greatest satisfaction, and potential fame.

The CyborGirlz chose to solve the problem of electric shock in water and created "Aquabot", a robot that looks for life threatening electrical currents underwater. The premise of their invention was that the robot would sound an alarm when it detected set amounts of electrical current in water. Aquabot would navigate like a robotic vacuum cleaner looking for electrical fields, sounding an alarm when it found them.

While designing their prototype the team consulted the Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association (ESDPA) who called their idea "ingenious". The board members were very impressed by the girls’ understanding of electric shock drowning and the application of technologies that solve the need for advance warning. Following the technical advisement from the ESDPA, the team tuned their prototype to make it work more accurately. 

Team CyborGirlz showed off their robot prototype by entering Rockwell Automation’s "Engineering Our Future" video contest. The process of creating their video (viewable on YouTube) helped the team polish their public speaking and presentation skills, which led to their submission in the Vernier Engineering Contest, a competition for innovative uses of Vernier sensors. CyborGirlz submitted their project to the FIRST Global Innovation Award, a competition to recognize innovations that can influence and help humans. The team is now considering pursuing a patent. 

"We want the entire experience to be about learning and applying technology and having a great time rather than just focusing on the competition," said the team’s coach, Carl Mixon. "I think of the research project part of the contest as my vehicle to connect kids with their future success. The project is a universal teaching adapter that lets you open any door. For example, our team used experience from a prior 3-D printing workshop as the springboard for designing 3-D printing parts for their Aquabot. Even if the team does not win, the kids are still very excited about learning."

Mixon also credits the phenomenal experience the girls have had during this FLL season with their perseverance and hard work, and with the encouraging support and training from the Coordination of Robotics Education (CORE) program at the College of Technology. 

For further information on the team, FIRST LEGO League or the CORE Program, email core@uh.edu.