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Lego Robot Project Puts Kids in Touch with Seniors

Brick Bots of Gibbstown club members got some firsthand perspective on their biggest challenge.

Imagine a day when robots live beside us, serving to aid us with our menial, everyday chores.

Now picture them made out of Legos.

Yes, it’s true—technology collided with children’s playtime to help entertain local seniors Tuesday morning at .

Senior citizens who normally enjoy their lunch in as they sit quietly around tables were intrigued and vocal in response to a presentation by seven children about Lego robots, and how those robots could help seniors like them. 

“It’s putting a human face on technology,” said Michelle Pandolfo of Brick Bots.

The Brick Bots are one of several teams under South Jersey Robotics, which was started only six weeks ago by two Gibbstown mothers, Kerri Sullivan and Pandolfo. Now, the group of eight is gearing up to attend the First Lego League state competition, called 2012 Senior Solutions. 

The 47 seniors got familiar with the team and gave input on types of robots they would find most helpful in performing everyday tasks. Sullivan said they intend to use all of the feedback to create a proposal for a senior-assisting robot, which will make up one half of the state competition. 

“We have to do what everyone else has to do, but we bring in our own solutions for senior citizens,” said Sullivan. 

Some of the ideas volunteered by seniors included robots that could pick items up off the floor, robots who could help them get up and security robots to render seniors aware of intruders. 

Nutrition site manager Margie Tomaszewski said a ‘pick up’ robot would be a great invention for just the nutrition site alone.

“[Seniors] drop their fork and they feel so helpless,” said Tomaszewski.  

The Brick Bots’ team of eight, which meets once a week, is split in half, as one part cycles through working with robots and the other working on projects. 

“It’s more then just putting blocks together,” said Pandolfo of Lego Mindstorms, the technology which allows kids to design and program robots. 

The kids, who range from ages 9 to 14, have an ultimate mission of finding the best senior solution, which they’ll decide by a vote.

“The kids are good at democracy,” said Sullivan with a smile. 

Brick Bots member Jacob Matteo—a longtime Lego fan who has spent hours trying to build the tallest Lego tower and once built a Lego boat just to see if he could float it—moved from his old group, the Technos in Swedesboro, after he outgrew their projects.

He is currently the only member who has previously competed in the state championship tournament—he took part in Body Forward, where he had to help program a robot to implant a plastic pacemaker into a plastic heart at the tournament.

“They’re fun to build,” said Matteo of his passion for robotics. “I’ve always been into computers and technology.”

Tomaszewski credited the children for coming down and sharing with the seniors, who average around 80 in age. She said some of the seniors do not always get to see their grandchildren or great-grandchildren, so they appreciate when young children come to participate in lunch programs.

“I think they really enjoyed it,” said Tomaszewski, “It’s a wonderful gesture.”

The presentation proved to be a win-win for all involved, including the Brick Bots, who now have some feedback to mull over in the upcoming weeks.

“This opportunity is a tremendous opportunity for the kids,” said Sullivan.

Michelle Renee February 12, 2013 at 10:28 PM
The Brick Bots have done great at the competition at Rowan University in December 2012, but are now enjoying time in the off season. They are building robots and programming them. To get ready for the next season they are doing small programs to get ready for the real challenges. The Brick Bots are even ready with small ideas for the theme, natural disasters. For last year’s solution they did the Golden Retriever, a dog shaped robot that retrieves your mail and newspaper. Now the Brick Bots are getting ready for the next season, and are also enjoying their off season.

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