LORETTO - These aren't your childhood Lego sets.
The models are still built using the same familiar plastic bricks and a child's imagination, and each model varies in complexity, from a small dog clutching a miniature cell phone in its mouth to hulking Lego robots.
But these Lego sets are powered by tiny on-board motors and guided by light and touch sensors - all built and programmed by area teams in the South/Central PA First Lego League Championship at St. Francis University.
Frankstown Elementary students Zach Clapper (left)?and Ethan Shanafelt demonstrate how their Lego Mindstorms robot uses light and touch sensors to solve puzzles Sunday at St. Francis in Loretto.
The competition is hailed as "sports for the mind" that challenges children ages nine to 14 to construct and program Lego robots to solve a variety of challenges and puzzles, said Allison Felix, director of the university's Science Outreach Center.
This year's theme was "Senior Solutions" and challenged students to compete in two main events.
Working in groups of six, students from 12 area teams constructed and programmed robots using the Lego Mindstorms robotics sets. The robots need to autonomously navigate a table littered with 14 senior-citizen themed Lego obstacles.
Challenges included the turning off a miniature oven and sorting color-coded pill bottles - all constructed from Legos.
"They develop a strategy for whatever course they want to do," Felix said.
Teams also worked with a senior citizen to identify common problems seniors face and presented their ideas to a panel of judges.
During the competition, the Lego robot performs the tasks on its own - students are not allowed to control the robot.
Felix described the event - held in the crowded DeGol Arena at the Stokes Athletic Center - as a "Super Bowl for kids who are technically minded."
Students embodied the spirit of "Coopertition," by competing and working cooperatively with its peers, she said.
"It was fun," Frankstown Elementary School student James Grove said after his team, the Mindstorm Marauders, finished their first round of competition on the floor.
Despite bumping into some obstacles, Grove and his teammates said the only real adjustments to the robot would be to ensure all the pieces were still properly connected.
"We don't really mess with it during the tournament," Grove said. "We have it already set and ready to go."
Students said the competition challenged them work cooperatively to solve the puzzles and prep their robots for the competition.
"It was a little hard at times," said Luke Yanoshak, a student at St. Rose of Lima. "[The robot] wasn't working in practice."
"Which is, like, really nerve wracking," added Spudbots teammate Mary Gunnett.
The Spudbots won an unofficial award for notable design and the Mindstorm Marauders took home an unofficial award for outstanding sportsmanship, Felix said.
The S.C.A.R. team from State College took home the championship trophy - also constructed from yellow Lego bricks.
Spudbots team coach Todd Cammarata watched as his son Nathan and the Spudbots competed on the floor. The First Lego League introduces kids to science and math in an easily accessible way, Cammarata said.
"It's a great learning experience," Cammarata said.
Dr. Charles MacVean, Dean of the School of Sciences at St. Francis and First Lego League volunteer referee, agreed.
"This is about getting kids interested in science and technology. That's the ultimate goal."
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.