Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah.

3, 2, 1, LEGO! U. hosts LEGO Championship Jan. 29

The first annual Utah FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL) Championship will kick off at 8 a.m. on Jan. 29, 2011. Five hundred and sixty middle school students, ages 9-14, will be competing in this exciting event, which combines LEGO robots, teamwork and an energetic, tournament atmosphere to promote science, technology and innovation.

The Office of Venture Technology Development (“Tech Ventures”) at the University of Utah is hosting the event to inspire kids to pursue educations and careers in science, engineering, business and related fields. Tech Ventures believes that innovation and the pursuit of new ideas is the cornerstone of Utah’s economic future. As a recognized leader at starting companies based on its research, the department is uniquely aware of the power of innovation.

“We are very proud to host the state’s first annual FIRST® LEGO® League Championship,” said Kathy Hajeb, FLL operational partner and director at Tech Ventures. “When we started organizing this event last summer, we knew it would be popular, but our expectations have been surpassed. I think that shows how many of our young Utah students are creative problem solvers and enjoy technology challenges. We hope to foster that interest with this program.”

Following the opening ceremony, teams will compete in a series of unique challenges. The centerpiece will be 56 teams taking turns navigating their robots on thematic playing fields. Judges award points for successful completion of missions defined to represent bioengineering innovation. While the teams compete, the action will be projected onto large screens as an announcer provides play-by-play for the audience of family, friends, sponsors, distinguished guests and many others.

The robots are only one part of the FLL Championship. The teams will also compete in numerous other challenges. They will compete for best robot design, best innovation project presentation and best overall teamwork awards. In addition, teams will be judged on their adherence to the FLL “Core Values,” which include “friendly competition” and “gracious professionalism.”

“Imagine the atmosphere at a high school basketball championship – that is the type of atmosphere at the Utah FLL Championship,” Hajeb said. “The tension is high, the team members motivate each other, parents cheer and the spectators watch the scoreboard. It’s a sporting event for the mind.”

This year’s tournament theme is Body Forward and will focus on biomedical engineering, and everything the teams do relates to that topic. For example, the thematic missions achieved by the robots, and the tasks they must complete, are related to that topic. The innovation project presentations must also relate to biomedical engineering. The theme for the 2012 is Food Factor and will focus on food safety.

Organizing the state’s first FLL Championship is a collaborative effort by the entire community. Volunteer coaches created self organized teams of up to 10 students each. Teams have worked for months to build their robots and program them using LEGO MINDSTORMS® technology. Meanwhile, sponsors and event organizers met regularly to manage logistics, and about 200 volunteers are expected at the event to bring the competition to life.

This year’s sponsors for the Utah FLL Championship include Boart Longyear, Northrop Grumman and the University of Utah. The following organizations helped sponsor rookie teams: Boart Longyear, Echelon, PTC, Don Brown, Hill Air Force Base/Ogden Air Logistics Center and the national FLL organization.

The Utah FLL Championship is one of many similar events held across the country and globe every year. This year, 171,000 kids and 54,000 volunteers are expected to compete in FLL competitions across the world. Winners of the state events advance to national and global tournaments.

The University of Utah partners with the national FLL organization to bring this program to Utah. FLL is one of a series of related programs offered by FIRST®, which was established in 1989 and is based in Manchester, N.H.

The University of Utah also hosts the FIRST®Robotics Competition (FRC), which is a similar robotics competition for high school students. The next Utah FRC event is April 7-9, 2011. Mentors and volunteers are needed. For more information, go to www.utfrc.utah.edu.

Learn more at www.utfll.utah.edu.

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