AUGUSTA — The Lego robot that Sam Minor helped build needed two tries to open a door, the second obstacle on the course in front of it on Saturday morning, but it got no farther.

But the 11-year-old sixth-grader from Hallowell, competing for the first time in the 15th annual Maine FIRST Lego League Championship at the Augusta Civic Center, was happy with the run.

“I think it was mostly luck, though,” he said, not giving himself much credit.

The tournament for students in eighth grade and below — in its 15th year — is run by Maine Robotics, an Orono group that works with schools and colleges to promote engineering and computer science. Thomas Bickford, the group’s executive director, said when the competition first started, it had 13 teams and 89 students. On Saturday, there were 72 teams and 600 students from Kittery to Frenchville.

Bickford said kids interested in robotics see it as accessible, in part due to Lego’s popularity among school-age children.

“They want the opportunity to build something and have it done in a realistic timeframe,” he said. “You can take a kid who’s never done Lego robotics, and within an afternoon they’ve built a robot and they’re starting to program it.”

The Lego robots are programmed using computer software to navigate an obstacle course pre-set by competition organizers. Teams race against each other for quality and speed, getting points for each obstacle cleared. Sensors on the bottom of the robot can read the colored lines on the course, helping it to turn or trigger tasks it must complete, including throwing a ball into a goal. A team from Kennebunk was the overall competition winner.

The program at Hall-Dale schools started last year, but this was the first time a team entered the FIRST competition. The nine-person team, with no member above age 11, didn’t make it out of Saturday’s first round.

But 30 miles northwest in Jay and Livermore Falls, a deep robot culture has taken root. There, Rob Taylor, a teacher at Spruce Mountain Middle School, has headed up the program for 10 years. He had five teams and 35 kids in all at the tournament on Saturday, where they won four first-place awards.

At the start of the obstacle course, there’s plenty of chance for error. The robot starts from a home base and can’t be touched on the course without a penalty. Orion Schwab, 13, an eighth-grader from Livermore Falls, said, “We have to make sure that we place the robot just so.” If it starts in a different spot from where the route was programmed, it can get off-track with that initial error compounding as it makes its way through the course.

But robotics is only one piece of Saturday’s competition. Eighth-grader Hallie Pike, 13, of Jay, was part of a team that built a computer application that can recognize music played for it and make suggestions to players about how to improve it.

Later in the day, her team played a piece of music they composed for judges to show it off in the project competition, which asks kids to find an innovative solution to a problem.

“The innovative solution needs to be something that nobody else has thought of,” Pike said, “and that’s really hard for middle-schoolers.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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