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July 01, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 01, 2005

Lessons in LEGOs Lessons in LEGOs (July 01, 2005)

Middle school Robotics team wins blue ribbon - attempts world record at the Alameda County Fair

It's that time of year again when the Alameda County Fair sets up shop and people come by the thousands to enjoy tractor pulls, livestock shows, the Ferris wheel and a Rube Goldberg competition. Rube Goldberg competition?

That's right - this year the Fair is getting robotic with an attempt to break the world record for the largest Rube Goldberg Machine. For those who have not heard of a Rube Goldberg Machine - and let's face it, that's most of us - it is a machine that takes the most steps possible to complete a simple task.

Playing at Learning, a non-profit organization located in Fremont, approached the Fair about organizing a contest to break the world record, which is currently held by students from Monache High School in Porterville who designed a 113-step machine. Ten groups entered the Fair's Rube Goldberg contest and plan to take 125 to 135 steps to raise a small flag for five seconds once they join their machines together. Included in the ambitious group are students from Pleasanton Middle School's robotics club who worked on the project in their off season.

"I enjoyed doing (the competition) because it poses a problem to solve and it's amusing," said Ryan Banks, a seventh grade student on the PMS team.

The machine is built out of LEGOs, but these aren't the kind of LEGOs you played with as a child. These LEGOs are computerized, and writing programs to direct their actions is as much a part of the building process as actually stacking them together. The PMS Robotics team works with LEGOs all year 'round and competes in the Lego League where they use their Lego program and problem-solving skills to make machines that navigate a wide variety of challenges.

"Rube Goldberg is very fun for them because they get to make the most complicated robot for the simplest task," said Judy Banks, the parent leader and founder of the robotics team. "There is so much experience that has built them to this point."

The teams will attempt to break the record July 3 at noon in the Technology Pavilion where all the machines that qualified can be viewed during regular Fair hours. In addition to the world record attempt, each team was judged on its individual machine and the PMS team won first place for Best in Class.

"All the entries were brilliant," said Jennifer Harvey, Technology Adventures Coordinator for the Fair.

The Technology Pavilion is also hosting various other tech displays and events for those who just can't fully enjoy a day without their computer. These displays include an energy bike sponsored by the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory that shows people how much energy they produce in 30 seconds, a digital music program where people can compose and play instruments through the computer and a simulated Mars rover, just to name a few.

So in-between the pig race and the cake show, take a chance to stop by the Technology Pavilion and enjoy a different side of the Fair. -Rebecca Guyon Visit www.playingatlearning.com to watch a demonstration of a Rube Goldberg Machine in action.


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