Organisation - July 13, 2018

Children create agricultural robots using Lego during WUR conference

Luuk Zegers

Building an autonomous robot that can follow a path gathering maize and grass along the way and dropping those in a container. It sounds like a task for students at a university of technology, but this was the challenge taken on by primary and secondary school pupils during the Lego Mindstorms Challenge in Orion.

Thierry and Zion of team ZT LegoPro's. © Luuk Zegers

Thirteen pairs of children participated as teams in the Lego Mindstorms Challenge on Wednesday 11 July in Orion. Their ages ranged from eight to sixteen years old, and the youngest contestants received bonus points to help level the field between them and the older contestants. Visitors of the AgEng conference could take a look at the robots created by the next generation.

Gerrit Polder of WUR Agro Food Robotics is one of the organisers of the Lego Mindstorms Challenge. He explains the assignment once more. ‘The robot must follow the black line and beep once at the yellow area, upon which it will be given a Lego piece representing maize. Upon beeping twice at the green area, it is given grass. Those pieces must be placed in a container without touching the container, and the robot must then find its own way back to base.’

Polder often helps organise Mindstorms Challenges in Amerongen. ‘We now have this AgEng conference and WUR 100 years. I thought it would be fun to organise it in Wageningen for once!’

This is the first competition for Thierry and Zion (both nine years old) of team ZT LegoPro’s. They have only been playing with Lego Mindstorms for two weeks. ‘But we have a lot of experience with Legos.’ The boys intend to participate in other Challenges in the near future. Thierry wants to follow a technical career as well: ‘building cars’.

Tim and Bert, in other words: team TimBert. © Luuk Zegers
Tim and Bert, in other words: team TimBert. © Luuk Zegers

Tim and Bert are fifteen. They were invited after winning a prior Challenge in Amerongen. ‘Most of the work goes into the programming. You need to constantly test whether the robot does what it’s supposed to do.’

Not much later, team TimBert tests their robot on the tracks. It already follows the line, but it’s not stopping at the green area. The sensor passed over the edge of the adhesive, causing it to misread the colour green. We’re now placing the sensor more centrally.’ What do they find the most difficult about this assignment? ‘We have to put the grass and maize in the container without touching that container. And then get back to the starting point.’

Team TimBert explores the track. © Luuk Zegers

At four thirty, it’s time for the actual competition. Some robots are only able to drive in circles. Others perform the task to perfection. Polder: ‘The fun thing about these challenges is that you give the teams one assignment and get thirteen different solutions.’

Stimulating kids
Polder: ‘School often miss the signs of kids having an aptitude for technology. Most of the teachers have a social scientific background, after all. However, we currently see a great lack of technicians. To improve this, we should stimulate technically oriented pupils.’

Polder thinks WUR could take on a task there too. ‘Such a Lego Mindstorms Challenge should be organised by WUR itself. I organised this one with a couple of students, but it could very well become a part of the Wetenschapsknooppunt (‘Science for Primary Education’). We at the Agro Food Robotics group would obviously be prepared to assist therein, as robotics in agriculture is our field of work.’

One of the few agricultural robots to have a driver. © Luuk Zegers