News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 19, 2012

TH LEGO team storms to victory

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Local LEGO enthusiasts struck with their thunder and lightning in West Lafayette this weekend, bringing home a championship and advancing to the state finals next month.

Team Storm of Terre Haute took the “Champions Award” at the FIRST LEGO League regional competition hosted at Purdue University Saturday, where 36 groups from around the state vied for honors in a battle of robots, computers and science. The nine-person team of 9- to 14-year-olds will advance to the state tournament in Fort Wayne on Dec. 8, and potentially the world championships in St. Louis.

But team coach and mother Lori Langley said Sunday she’s not thinking that far ahead just yet.

“We didn’t want to jinx ourselves,” she laughed, describing her pride in a two-year-old team composed largely of home-schooled students. The championship they won represents top honors for a multi-event, day-long contest. “The kids were just floored. They couldn’t believe it.”

Thursday evening, the team was busy practicing in the basement of Lori and Tom Langley’s home, where LEGO toys were assembled into robotic devices programmed by computers.

In addition to the programmable robots, the team also competed in an “invention” category, Lori explained as the kids produced displays outlining the workings of the “Remind-U-Watch.”

This year’s contest theme was “Senior Solutions,” and teams were asked to produce a unique device which would aid senior citizens in their daily activities.

Team members Caleb Boutell, 12, and Devon Langley, 10, explained the watch is designed to help patients with dementia remember scheduled appointments.

Devon explained the watch features an LED display with various pictures to remind users of activities. In addition to a buzzer, the watch displays a symbol representing the activity, whether a medical appointment or activity. After consulting with physicians and senior citizens, the team found no other device like it on the market, she said.

FIRST LEGO contains the acronym “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” Lori said. Last year’s contest theme revolved around food safety, and the kids interviewed grocer Bob Baesler as part of the process.

Team Storm’s inaugural season featured as coach Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology student Andy Milluzzi, an international competitor in LEGO contests.

Tom, a professor of math at Rose-Hulman, noted the school has had LEGO teams for some time, and will host the FIRST Robotics Regional this spring, where high school students will compete.

“So this year we’ve taken on coaching,” Lori said, describing the competitions as extremely family-friendly. In addition to her two older children who compete, her 4-year-old daughter attends as a cheerleader of sorts, she laughed.

Last year the team took first place at regional and state competitions for “gracious professionalism,” analogous to sportsmanship, she said. This year, the team has been meeting two to three times per week in her basement since September, learning the fundamentals of science and engineering.

LEGO Mindstorm is the primary software used to program the robots, which go on to perform tasks assigned without remote control. In addition to the movements, team members have to explain the process and defend their invention to a panel of judges.

“It’s a nail-biting experience,” Lori said, explaining one never knows what could go wrong during the competition.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or