Nano Quest Norway
The first time they watched their car-like robot move forward marked an enormous achievement in the young lives of sisters Anisha and Rohisha Adke.
'It was like they climbed Mt. Everest,' said their mother, Hemakshi Adke. 'Just the challenge of putting together something that moves is phenomenal.'
Three years later, their latest robotic creation - nicknamed 'Kanga' - can accomplish much, much more than rolling its wheels.
Made from a inexpensive LEGO kit and programmed by a computer using Bluetooth technology, Kanga uses light, touch and ultrasonic sensors to perform various 'missions' across a 4-by-8-foot playing field.
After much testing, the sisters came up with a robot they described as consistent, reliable and robust.
With Kanga's assistance, the Adkes and other members of their Lake Oswego-based Girl Scout team, the 'Super Hyper Quantum Kangaroos,' won the second place Championship Award - the most prestigious of honors - at the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League 2007 State Tournament Jan. 13 in Hillsboro.
Now the team has been selected by an international committee of judges to fill one of four American spots to compete in the FLL Open European Championship in Bodø, Norway from May 16 to 21.
To earn the coveted opportunity, the girls competed against teams from around the world by submitting essays and a portfolio. They also made a creative video explaining why they wanted to visit Norway.
'I can't wait to go to Bodø because I will get to see the 'Midnight Sun,'' Anisha wrote in the application. 'I also think it will be cool to see the Arctic Circle, even though it will be freezing! I am looking forward to more robotics, which always means more learning.'
Each year, the project takes on a different modern theme with different missions. The theme of the 2007 Intel tournament was 'Nano Quest,' which asked teams to explore existing sciences at the molecular level by working with nanotechnology tools and applications.
From August to January, the Adke's team met more than 50 times and worked for more than 1,500 hours. First, they built Kanga using a Lego NXT kit that included bricks, motors and gears - but no hand-held controls. They also built several small structures, such as an elevator, that Kanga would be programmed to go to and complete a mission (the team's score is based on how many missions the robot successfully completes in under 2-½ minutes).
For example, on a recent afternoon, the girls sat Kanga on the table and watched as the robot dropped a small orange ball into a 'bone' made from Lego bricks, then pushed a box under a net to catch tiny blue pieces that tumbled into it.
'Each teams cores their mission in different ways using different techniques,' said Hemakshi, who is also the team's enthusiastic coach. 'They have to think about the ordering and how they will do it.'
There's no right or wrong answer, and the challenge helps kids build problem-solving and life skills, she added.
Teams are also judged on how well they work together.
In addition, the girls were required to choose a scientific research project that focused on nanotechnology.
'We knew we wanted to do something with disaster relief,' explained Anisha, a 5th grader at Westridge Elementary.
So, they began researching water purification using carbon nanotubes, a technology they hope will someday give the entire world clean, drinkable water and solve an international crisis.
To begin, they interviewed Northwest Medical Team members, visited an operating room that featured a 'robotic surgeon,' conducted water tests, attempted to purify water from the Willamette River using conventional methods, visited Intel and spoke with a researcher from the National Lawrence Livermore Lab.
Their final presentation showed their concept: a funnel-shaped water purifier that uses nanoparticles and nanotubes (along with a filter and sand) to remove bacteria and viruses from water; or in the case of ocean water - salt.
The entire project 'was a lot harder than anything we have to do in school,' Rohisha said.
One reason, Hemakshi said, is because the project asks kids to fine-tune many skills, from public speaking to computer programming. Last year, the girls dove into the pertinent issue of global warming.
'It's wonderful because the kids go in-depth to focus on the topic,' Hemakshi added. 'They look at global problems in a way that other people their age wouldn't.'
Now, when they attend science class at school 'the concepts just jump out at them,' Hemakshi said.
Since its inception in 2001, the robotics program has been rapidly increasing in participation, particularly among young girls. It aims to help young people prepare for high-tech careers at an early age. Anisha dreams of becoming a marine biologist or an engineer. Rohisha is considering engineering, too.
But they aren't thinking much further ahead than their trip to Norway. The Adke family has never taken a European vacation, except for occasional airport stop-overs on their way to India. They're excited, but still searching for sponsors. The team's total trip cost (without factoring in food) is about $8,780.
Most of all, the girls are excited to meet people from around the world and show off their own 'Nano Quest.'