LEGO MoonBot From latest Jersey Wins Competition
A team of eighth-grade students from New Jersey has won first place for its small lunar rover made entirely out of LEGO pieces. The struggle, called MoonBots, is the mini version of the Google Lunar X Prize, which challenged teams to land an actual rover on the moon and offered a prize of $30 million. While not a journey to the moon, the student winners land a tour of the LEGO factory in Billund, Denmark. The team, called Landroids, built a four-wheeled robot accessorized with a motorized arm and a basket for gather moon samples. The miniature machine successfully maneuvered along and sampled from a lunar-like surface, prepared with craters, moon rocks and other rough terrain.

The Landroids are "very excited" about the visit to the land of LEGOs, group leader John Yeh told TechNewsDaily. The Shadowed Craters team from California snagged second place, while the Moonwalk team from New Jersey and Connecticut came in third. The competition was support by the X Prize Foundation and LEGO Group; the winners were announcing last Wednesday. Each of the opposing teams was given a set of tools to design, build and control the lunar robots. Their toolbox included motors, sensors and LEGO bricks, as well as one LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Intelligent Brick, which is a computer chip with Flash memory and Bluetooth ability that served as the robot's brain.

The teams intended the colorful mini-bots using LDRAW, LEGO Digital Designer or Google SketchUp software. The designs along with video essays and blogs were submitted to the judges. The design phase of the struggle let the teams refine their robots. The Landroids team "explored quite a few different options" before resolve on the final design, Yeh said. In particular, the team changed the design for the moon-rock-grasping arm from a complex double claw to a simple fork. "Eventually we had to give up, because moving impressive with that much mass, it was just too difficult to control the turning accuracy," Yeh said. In the final phase of the competition, the robots shaped by the top 20 teams got to strut their stuff and performed a simulated lunar mission on a LEGO mat.

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