Esther Kang

Young Manhattan Beach robotics team tackles tsunamis

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Back row from left: Local fifth graders Charlie LeVine and Sean McQuiggan Front row from left: Ethan Gordon, J.P. Frey and Matthew Stillwell.

Team members of the Raving Robots at the Nov. 23 qualifying tournament in Venice, where the Manhattan Beach team took first place. Back row from left: Local fifth graders Charlie LeVine and Sean McQuiggan; Front row from left: Ethan Gordon, J.P. Frey and Matthew Stillwell. Photos courtesy of David McQuiggan

By day, they are like any other fifth graders at American Martyr School in Manhattan Beach. Yet outside the bounds of their classrooms, likely unbeknownst to their mates, the five boys are engineering innovative methods to save their local community from natural disaster.

The team, christened “Raving Robots,” took first place against 25 other groups from across Los Angeles County two weekends ago at the Venice First Lego League Qualifying Tournament with its project on an early-warning tsunami detection system for local coastal communities. This Saturday, the boys advance to the Regional Championship Tournament in Torrance where they will compete with qualifying teams from Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Raving Robots' Sean McQuiggan listens to referee's scoring decision overseen by LeRoy E. Nelson, Operational Partner of the Los Angeles Region FIRST LEGO League

Raving Robots’ Sean McQuiggan listens to referee’s scoring decision overseen by LeRoy E. Nelson, Operational Partner of the Los Angeles Region FIRST LEGO League

The team, comprised of fifth graders Charlie LeVine, Ethan Gordon, John-Paul Frey, Matthew Stillwell, and Sean McQuiggan, is coached by David McQuiggan, a team father.

This year, First Lego League, an international robotics competition organized by not-for-profit FIRST and LEGO, is engaging some 200,000 children ages 9 to 16 in 70 countries to solve real-world engineering challenges by applying robotics and conducting research experiments. Themed “Nature’s Fury,” the competition also requires each team to build an autonomous LEGO-based robot.

At the Nov. 23 qualifying tournament in Venice, the “Raving Robots” placed third over three rounds of the Robot Game, in which their autonomous robot had less than two minutes to complete nearly 20 missions related to preparing and recovering from natural disasters.

Their championship title was a culmination of their Robot Game performance combined with the team’s presentation of their project, a first-of-its-kind early-warning tsunami detection system via Twitter and the California Emergency Alert System.

The “Raving Robots” also presented their research on local tsunami sources that may affect their home community of Manhattan Beach, particularly strike-slip faults in the Southern California Continental Borderland and potential landslide scenarios at the Palos Verdes Escarpment.

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