NORTH KINGSTOWN – Who said girls can’t do what boys do?
Whoever it was clearly never met North Kingstown resident Megan Nadeau, a seventh-grade student from St. Mary's Bay View Academy that recently helped her St. Mary Academy Robotics Team capture first place in the First Lego League (FLL) Rhode Island Robotics Championship 2011, held in January at Roger Williams University.
Nadeau was one of 11 girls on the team nicknamed S.M.A.R.T., which competed against 58 other teams comprised of 600 kids and 100 coaches. The focus was to build a robot and have it programmed to perform various tasks.
The team was judged on three categories. The first component was the team had to build and program a robot to perform multiple tasks. This year’s theme was Body Forward, so all of the tasks had to do with improving and healing the human body. The robot was made of over 400 Lego’s and one of the tasks was to set a broken bone in place then place a cast over the break.
Other tasks included taking pills from a pill box and inserting them into a "brain" and placing a stent into a Lego designed artery.
The other component involved research and a presentation on a product dealing with the human body that hasn’t been invented or used before.
“The girls focused their research on helping the blind to be more independent by creating a pair of glasses equipped with LIDAR sensors and an earpiece attached to the arm of the glasses to warn the wearer of upcoming obstacles,” S.M.A.R.T. Coach Linda Grasso said.
S.M.A.R.T.'s project has been entered into the Global Innovation Award contest which is organized through FLL and the X-Prize Foundation.
“We were so excited because the glasses could really change the way blind people live,” Nadeau said. “If these glasses become a product, the quality of life for blind people will increase tremendously. With the way technology has evolved over the years, I’m surprised no one has thought of this.”
“This is an online voting contest, however, the highest number of votes alone doesn’t necessarily ensure winning the prize," Grasso said. "So far, our project currently holds the highest number of votes with over 43,000.”
The winner of this competition could receive up to $20,000 to patent their idea and create a prototype. The judges will review the top vote getters to determine the “feasibility” of the idea, its creativeness and originality, cost effectiveness and public benefit.
The final component of the FLL competition was based on teamwork and FLL core values.
“As coach of the first ever all-girls team to win in the State of Rhode Island, I’m extremely proud," Grasso said. "The many hours that the girls dedicate to practice are a big part of their success. This championship, along with our fight to garner the most votes in the Global Innovation Award, has brought about tremendous school spirit and support from faculty, family, friends and alumnae. Many new friends have been made to ensure that S.M.A.R.T. stays ahead in the votes. I am overwhelmed by the support.”
With the first place win at Roger William’s University, S.M.A.R.T. will be traveling to St. Louis, Mo., at the end of April to compete in the first ever FLL World Festival, with teams from over 30 countries expected to participate.
“I’m so excited to be going to St. Louis," Nadeau said. "All the girls have been working so hard, but now isn’t the time or us to be slacking. We’ll spend the next few weeks making some adjustments and improvements to the robot, making sure we’re precise in all components.”
Nadeau says her interest in technology comes from the fact that what you can do with it is “never-ending”
“There’s so much you can learn and with technology," she said. "I love creating things and seeing how they work and help in the real world.”
Nadeau will further her technology education when she attends an advanced robotics camp at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) for a week this summer. In addition to working hard in the robotics program, she’s in the chorus, plays tennis and plays the piano.
In addition to coming in first place, all the girls received a $5,000 renewable scholarship for four years to Roger Williams University.
“For us, this is the Olympics for robotics," Grasso said. "Winning is the icing on the cake, but the thrill to be part of the whole experience is a victory in itself.”