In the months after winning top honors in the 2012 FIRST® LEGO® League Global Innovation Award for their inventions designed to make day-to-day life easier for senior citizens, teens in Maryland, Illinois and Ohio have a new reality – one that involves pursuing patents and manufacturers – that sets them apart from their peers.
The SENIOR SOLUTIONS℠ Challenge winner NeXT GEN returned to Oakland, Md., as “Hometown Heroes” in a town parade. Their float: a giant LEGO® man holding a king-sized version of their winning device, the Gramma-Jamma, which helps seniors pick up small objects with ease. The team also received a Maryland House of Representatives Resolution in its honor.
Though only two of team members remain in FLL® (two more have moved on to FIRST® Tech Challenge), Coach Arlene Lantz continues to meet regularly with team members – all leaning toward STEM careers – as they navigate the patent, business and manufacturing processes.
While waiting for the results of the third stage of a search with Edison Nation, the team is anything but passive about its invention’s future. A provisional patent in hand, the team continues to fine-tune the invention using a 3D printer while procuring pro bono support from lawyers, accountants, and local businesses, including a potential manufacturer.
“If it goes to production, we would like to set up a foundation through which the team members and others would receive scholarship money,” says Arlene, a math teacher who coaches both FLL and FTC teams. NeXT GEN members also hope to support their school system. “Our school system has lost state funds and has declining enrollment, so getting new computers or other technology in our classrooms is difficult. We’d really like to give back to the school system to help promote STEM and support other FIRST® teams.”
Finalist Lucky Is Our Dog of Columbus, Ohio, was a rare family team made up of three siblings, co-coached by Monique Sierzputowski and her husband, Daniel. The team – named in honor of the family dog – has filed for a provisional patent for its winning device, the Buddy, a sensor that can notifies loved ones if no motion is detected in an allotted time.
Being a family team changed the family dynamics, according to Monique. “The whole process was unique because we could talk at the dinner table or while in the car. We were engaging in ways we normally would not have. It was a fun and unique bonding experience.”
Son Will, 15, “was totally not ready to give up FLL®,” Monique laughs, so he remains on a school FLL team coached by his mom while simultaneously serving on an FTC® team and as a team leader for a Junior FIRST® LEGO® League team. Ben, 12, participates in the same FLL team, one of two coached by Monique, who is also the event coordinator for a 16-team FLL Qualifying Tournament. Daughter Jacquie, 13, now is interested in the environment and marine biology.
Though Lucky Is Our Dog has disbanded, the team is pursuing some “possible next steps” from Edison Nation. “We’re also trying to seek somebody with whom to partner to develop a working prototype,” Monique shares.
The Rockford Christian Royal Narwhals, a fellow finalist, is the product of a school that offers a robotics elective using the LEGO® Education Green City Challenge Set. “We have 30 sixth-graders chomping at the bit to get into robotics. It’s just generated a lot of interest,” says coach Julie Rohl, a science and math teacher at the K-12 private school in Rockford, Ill.
The “it” to which she refers is her team’s success. “The interest of the whole town is still piqued when you mention the Royal Narwhals,” Julie observes. Four of the team’s seven members remain on the FLL team, while two have moved on to FTC. The seventh member is focusing instead on engineering classes.
“The students are really serious about the robotic team this year. FIRST has inspired all the kids to move forward and to expand their knowledge of math, science, technology and engineering,” says Julie, who co-coaches two FLL teams with fellow science teacher Mike Manke.
The team has a provisional patent for its Magnetic Plug Adapter (MPA), which uses magnetic power to keep appliances plugged in. The easily detachable cords can prevent seniors from tripping over power cords. “We have a lot of options in front of us, so we’re going step by step. Edison Nation said they definitely believe there’s a market for the MPA, and they encouraged the kids to look for electrical companies that will take it to the manufacturing stage. We’re praying we make the right decision and take the right path,” Julie says.