Kids Inspired To Help Their Elders Through Robotics
January 21, 2013

Kids Inspired To Help Their Elders Through Robotics

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

There is no denying robots are changing the world but instead of the machines taking over and enslaving mankind, they are actually helping improve the lives of many. This past weekend robots also helped to inspire young designers and would-be engineers. But for some competitors it was also about helping their elders.

The First Lego League Championship was held on Saturday, and two teams were sponsored by the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. The teams´ competitors, aged eight to 11, focused on a goal to improve seniors´ quality of life, with an emphasis on how technology could help with tasks such as finding and picking up healthy food at the grocery store and to help seniors stand up after gardening.

“It´s a thrill, the highlight of my week,” project co-ordinator Kim Adams, an assistant technology researcher in rehabilitation medicine with a joint appointment at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, said in a statement. “It has been really neat to see the kids problem-solve and watch how everything has progressed, from getting the LEGO structures on the robot game table to doing the hard part and programming the robots, and figuring out what parts to use to accomplish each task.”

The two teams — “Bad News Bears” and “Rock´em Sock´em” — have gathered at the Rehab Robotics lab at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) every weekend since October to build, program, test and even retest their robots. The 12 participating competitors have overseen each project from start to finish, and this included talking to a local senior to better understand the day-to-day challenges that older people now face.

This also fits well with the goals of the Alberta Youth Robotics Society, which promoted The First Lego League Championship. The group´s goal is to “inspire young people to pursue further studies and careers in the field of science, technology and engineering.”

The group continues to pursue its primary mission through robotics competitions for school-age students at the elementary, junior high and high school level.

For those several weeks from October to this past weekend, the teams worked out the kinks, but then it was time for each robotic creation to have its moment in the spotlight.

Saturday´s competition saw robots built by teams from Edmonton and Calgary, and the creations from each team were required to run through a variety of missions that tested their abilities to run through obstacle courses, pick up small items and perform a variety of other tasks.

Nathan Ciezki´s team built the Pill Popper 1.0, a device that reportedly was designed to help elderly users organize the medications they may take.

“It dispenses your pills. It organizes your pills, and it tells you when to take your pills,” Ciezki told the CBC following Saturday´s competition. “Every senior has maybe one or multiple types of medication and it can get confusing.”

And while not every competitor will likely go on to the field of robotics, other valuable lessons were learned from helping the elderly during the competition.

“We´re learning communication, we´re learning cooperation,” Ciezki added. “We´re learning how to handle stress, as you saw, we were running around frantically, trying to get our robot done.”

And the best part is these young builders were learning that someday they might too need help from someone younger.