Haines, Skagway Lego League clubs compete virtually in Juneau competition

(Creative Commons photo by Tim Ellis)

Diminished ferry schedules prevented Lego League clubs in the Upper Lynn Canal from traveling to a Juneau robotics qualifier. Neither the Haines Robohobos nor the Skagway Krosswalk Kangaroos let that keep them from participating.

The Robohobos, Haines’ Lego League team, put their Lego robot to the test and performed a skit for judges at the Juneau Robot Jamboree over the weekend.

But they weren’t actually in Juneau. Cuts to the ferry schedule made travel to the capital impractical for the team. The Robohobos and the Skagway Krosswalk Kangaroos competed by teleconference.

“Some parts, they froze a little, but we did pretty good,” said rookie Robohobo Corbin Wright. He said that didn’t spoil his chance to compete against two dozen other teams from across the state. The team and its robot simply completed challenges for judges on the other side of a video call.

“It felt really exciting,” he said.

Teams are judged in several categories, including a robotics challenge and real world problem solving. This year’s theme, “City Shaper,” challenged students to invent a solution to a problem in their community.

Both Haines and Skagway teams chose transportation infrastructure projects. The Robohobos designed a safer parking and pick-up zone for the elementary school, and the Krosswalk Kangaroos devised a crosswalk system for busy downtown streets. Meanwhile, the state is working to solve a transportation infrastructure puzzle of its own.

The Tazlina was servicing Angoon last weekend instead of making the Lynn Canal run. That left only the weekly Matanuska sailing. Haines Coach Patty Brown said it wasn’t enough to get Lynn Canal teams to the competition.

“In order for us to actually participate in the event and take a ferry, we would have had to stay in Juneau for two weeks. That of course was out of the question,” she said.

It’s not unusual for Lego League competitions to be virtual, but it was a first for the Robohobos.

“We’d never done it before. We had to move projectors and set up the board and get used to a new space, etc.,” she said.

Brown says some of the camaraderie between teams was lost in a long-distance competition. But she was proud of the team for giving it their best shot despite the distance.

Krosswalk Kangaroos took home top honors at the qualifier, despite competing virtually. And their crosswalk project was approved by the Skagway Borough Assembly. It’s now in committee.

Coach Mary Thole says they will have their first in-person competition at State Championships in Anchorage in January.

“This win was huge for this team,” she said.

“This team started out last year and they competed virtually and they were a brand new rookie team and they were taken under the wings of the Prickles, so the Prickles really supported them last year.”

Skagway’s veteran team, the Prickles, aged up this year. They’re now rookies in a new division and took 2nd place at their first competition in Juneau at the beginning of the month.

The state championships are Jan. 17 and 18. Coach Thole says there’s a ferry to get them to their flight in Juneau.

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