‘Brain Busters’ win First Lego

A tornado, hurricane or earthquake has devastated a town and wiped out communications. Where can people go for help? Look for the giant balloon.

The Brain Busters — a team of six boys from Sherborne, Massachusetts — has won FIRST LEGO League’s global innovation award for their idea: After a natural disaster, suspend a large sign from a helium balloon that can be seen at long distances.

The Brain Busters’ “love math, computer programming, engineering, and problem solving,” they write. “We built a full scale (100’ high!), working model that we have deployed in high winds, snow storms, and extreme cold.”

State emergency management officials hope to put the idea into use.

More than 500 FIRST LEGO League teams submitted their ideas.

Runners up were the Robotic Raiders of Williamsburg, Iowa, who devised the Cyclone Survivor board game to teach how to prepare for, survive and recover from a tornado, and RobotTec of Santiago, Chile, who designed the Tsunami Evacuation System, which uses retro-reflectors and three-color LED lights on major streets.

Young inventors

Inspired by the FIRST robotics contest, teens — and pre-teens — are patenting their inventions, reports Popular Mechanics.

The Londonderry, N.H., Inventioneers had already filed three provisional patent applications by the time they created the SMARTwheel in response to a FIRST Lego League Challenge. “We found out car crashes were the No. 1 cause of death for teens, and texting was the main distraction,” says 11-year-old Bryeton Evarts. “We wanted to do something to stop that.” Their solution is a steering wheel cover that detects when a driver removes a hand for more than 3 seconds and emits visual and audio alerts. A data logger communicates unsafe driving behavior in real time. Writing the utility patent application was 16-year-old Tristan Evarts’s favorite part: “You can conceptualize your idea, but until you have to list all its features on paper, you don’t fully understand what it is.”

A team in Rockledge, Florida built a custom robot for the local police department.

 It can climb rugged terrain, deliver a negotiation phone, launch smoke grenades, and conduct surveillance. “We were searching other police robots and were shocked by how much they cost for what they could do,” says Jason Schuler, a contract engineer for NASA, a team mentor, and a FIRST alum. So the team filed a provisional patent for its PDBot and optimized the design for a kit that other teams can use to fundraise. “Instead of washing cars to raise money, they’ll be building robots,” Schuler says.

Very cool.

Nearly 300,000 students participate in FIRST programs, which start with Junior Lego for grades K-3.