As I mentioned earlier, I got appointed as a judge for the Malaysia FLL Open Championship. It is a LEGO robotics competition for kids between ages 9-16 and it is an open championship, meaning that there is only one category of competition and everyone competes for that one category. The overall champions will earn the privilege of representing Malaysia at the international championships in Atlanta as well as KaoHsiung.
The competition was judged in four different areas – presentation, robot design, teamwork and mission. I volunteered for the technical robot design judging and it turned out to be very interesting. I did not see the presentation judging but was told that it was less interesting. However, the mission judging was a blast and I managed to capture a lot of photos of that.
One thing that I observed during the judging was that there is a definite gap between the good schools and the normal schools in our country. Some of the schools that joined the FLL competition were well known to me while others were just regular schools. For the out-standing schools, you could see that they came very well prepared, even for the technical judging. They were clearly presented their robot designs, highlighting the rational behind every design decision and demoed their robots successfully like clockwork.
There was also a marked difference between the presentation styles of national schools versus chinese schools. While they both came well prepared, the national school presentations tended to be a bit more professional and personal while the chinese school presentations were more rigid and drill like. Regardless, I was very impressed with them as it was clear that the students had all put in a lot of effort into preparing for the competition, down to the clothes that they would wear – one team was dressed in Death Note t-shirts!
Although the students worked in groups, the division of labour was largely gender specific. The boys largely worked on the LEGO robots while the girls took care of the presentations. Moreover, the ones in charge of the programming were visibly geeks – they all had that look to them. I think that this was a bit of a shame as I think that the girls have some really good robot designs too, especially those from some of our best girl schools like TKC. I would have liked to see more female participation in the engineering aspects but I guess that the boys would just bully the girls away.
Unfortunately for most of the primary schools, the students were largely out of their league. This was reflected in the overall results with a large number of primary schools in the lower half. Most of the time, the students just stood there unsure of what to do and it was up to us as judges to prod and probe them in order to wean the answers out of them. We tried our best to help them as it was all about good clean fun. As long as the kids had some fun playing with the LEGO robots, it was all good.
That said, I should mention that our overall champion is a primary school – SRJKC Jalan Davidson. They also had the largest number of supporters present including a mascot dressed up as a Knight, a drummer and a bugler in addition to a couple of dozen kids and parents. In addition, the gutsiest school was also another primary school – one from Sri Petaling. They were the only ones to attempt a bridge crossing and they managed to successfully park their robot at the end of the bridge each time. SMKDJ brought along some of their cheer-leaders who danced, did cart-wheels and climbed on top of each other to entertain the crowd.
I was very impressed with the team from SMK Bintulu as their robot exhibited some fairly industrial practices. I asked them who their sponsors were and it turned out that they were sponsored by some mechanical engineering company – which was pretty evident from their robot. They did well too, and became overall runners-up. At least it their trip here was worth it. Personally, I think that I will like to sponsor a team myself, if I ever have the funds to do it. It is good clean fun and it inculcates an interest for engineering in the kids.
In the end, I had a lot of fun and will definitely support the FLL thing again next year. In the mean-time, I have our National Robotics Championships to look forward too.