In the state of New Mexico the regional operating partner for FLL is the New Mexico FLL (NMFLL), who is supported by the Girl Scouts of New Mexico.

For the 2016 competition season, IbnSina Mindcrafters registered two teams to compete in the NM FLL. The teams were made up from the students that participated in the 2016 ICNM classes. The teams were Sabretooth Cyborgs (Safa, Amr, Meera, Hamza, Rakin and Ohafi), and Pandamonium (Waseem, Ibrahim, Essa, Mahdi, Mutazz and Shahjee). The coaches for Sabretooth Cyborgs were Mohammed Ebieda and Rashad Hussain. The coaches for Pandamonium were Adnan Kassem and Mohammed Issa.

Sabretooth Cyborgs Team Members
Pandamonium Team Members

The teams formed in July 2016 and each team member undertook one of the following roles: Mechanical Lead, Software Lead, Core Values Lead, Project Lead, Finance Officer and Team Leader.  The teams were given a budget to be used for undertaking research, going on trips, buying additional robotics pieces, buying presentation supplies (poster boards) etc. Each team was also given two full EV3 31313 kits.

The project outline and robotics challenges are released each year at the start of September; the theme for 2016 was Animal Allies. While waiting for the release of the project and challenge details the teas attempted to complete the steeplechase from the 2016 Robo-Olympics.

Steeplechase Video

Each team member also prepared a short 5 minute presentation about themselves and about how humans and animals interact. The team members gave their presentations individually to two independent judges (Nicholas Leathe and Dr Richard Gover). They were judged on their presentation abilities; this allowed their coaches to create a baseline of presentation skills that they could build upon.

In September 2016 the 2016 FLL robotics challenge and project outline was released, the theme was Animal Allies. The teams began by researching different animals an identifying problems faced by those animals. Pandamonium decided early to focus on bees and try to understand why the bee population was declining. Sabretooth Cyborgs choose to focus on wolves; the grey wolf is an iconic animal to the state of New Mexico Sabretooth Cyborgs wanted to understand the issues related to reintroducing captive wolves into the wild.

Both teams went on field trips to talk with experts about their problem and discuss possible solutions. Sabretooth Cyborgs went to the ABQ Biopark Zoo and met with the zookeepers that look after their captive wolves. The wolves are part of the New Mexico wolf breeding programme and are not likely to be reintroduced. The zoo keepers explained the issues of raising wolves in captivating and how they tried to mimic some of the environment the wolves would see in the wild. Sabretooth Cyborgs decided to suggest improvements to zoo exhibits so that there would be less interaction between humans and wolves.

Sabretooth Cyborgs at the ABQ Zoo

Pandamonium went to the ABQ Botanical gardens to see their bee hive and meet with a bee expert. They discussed some of the reasons attributed to the decline in bee population; pesticides, weak and homogeneous gene pool and mites. The team also got to pretend to be bees in a computer simulation game. Pandamonium decided to create a bee sanctuary where bees could be breed to be more resilient to pesticides and be more genetically diverse.

Pandamonium and their coach Adnan meeting a bee expert at the ABQ Botanical Garden

Both teams shared their project ideas with another FLL team from Edgewood New Mexico, the Nuclear Chickens. The Nuclear Chickens were previously called the Trash Monsters and had come to present at the 2016 ICNM Robo-Olympics.

Both teams employed a “point and shoot” strategy for the robot challenges; this relied on accurate alignment of the robot to complete challenges. The teams split the code into multiple loops so that they lowered the risk of achieving a low score. A few of the loops were dependent on each other, but on the whole the same was for loops to be as independent as much as possible. Pandamonium were aiming for a point’s score of 95, while Sabretooth Cyborgs were looking at 91.

After an early breakfast at ICNM on the 3rd December 2016 the teams, parents and coaches traveled south from Albuquerque to Socorro for a New Mexico regional qualifier. There were a lot of nerves at the start of the day, this being the first tournament that IbnSina Mindcrafters had entered. These nerves disappeared as the teams immersed themselves in the competition. The teams gave their robotics design executive summary, project and core value presentations in the morning and competed in the robotics competition in the afternoon. During the day the teams interacted with other teams at the qualifier; Sabretooth Cyborgs ran a quiz related to wolves which the other teams at the qualifier participated in.

Team members and coaches at the Socorro Qualifier

The robotics competition was very close; ultimately Pandamonium achieved the highest robotics score by a single point. Sabretooth Cyborgs performed very well and finished with the joint 3rd highest score. Pandamonium were awarded the robots performance trophy as they achieved the top score at the qualifier, they were also awarded 2nd Place in the research project category. Sabretooth Cyborgs were awarded the Core Values award. Both teams advanced from the qualifier and would compete at the state tournament in February 2017.

Sabretooth Cyborgs Robot Run at NM Socorro Qualifier

Socorro Qualifier Final Scores
Qualifier Awards

After a well deserved break for the children and coaches, the teams reconvened at the end of December 2016 to conduct a review of each aspect of the FLL competition. The teams reviewed the feedback from the qualifier and create a plan to improve for the state tournament. With the tournament only 6 weeks away the teams became much more focused.

For the project both teams decided they needed to build prototypes to better help convey their solutions and to speak to more experts. Sabretooth Cyborgs decide to do mind maps to make sure they had considered all factor to their problem. Pandamonium conduct a larger literature review for their problem and look at other existing solutions, to see if they could be incorporated into their solution. Both teams met with Albuquerque architects Nassema Hadi and Taffazul Hussain, they gave a short presentation about architecture and helped each team develop their ideas. This was especially beneficial for Pandamonium as they decided to move from a dome made out of a single piece of glass to one made up of glass panes inside a supporting structure. Pandamonium also had a visit from beekeepers with whom they discussed their project and got to sample different types of honey.

Bee Facts
Pandamonium and their coach Mohammed Issa meeting beekeepers.

Sabretooth Cyborgs met with wolf reintroduction expert Dave Parsons; Dave was part of the team that reintroduced the grey wolf back to New Mexico. Dave informed the team about the challenges of reintroduction and how the captive breeding programme worked. Sabretooth Cyborgs and some members of Pandamonium went on a field to the Wild Sprit Wolf Sanctuary near Gallup, New Mexico. The sanctuary shelters wolves rescued from people who wanted to keep them as pets. A large number of the wolves were part wolf and part dog. The guide informed the teams that wolf behaviour and dog behaviour are very different and wolves can get caught between the two and so people used to having dogs as pets get to a point where it is dangerous for them and the Wolf for it to stay in captivity as a pet. The highlight of the field trip was to start a howl with all the wolves at the sanctuary.

Sabretooth Cyborgs meeting Dave Parsons

Both teams shared their projects with other FLL teams. Pandamonium discussed their project with the New Mexico FLL team the NM Zeta Bots, while Sabretooth Cyborgs spoke to a Californian FLL team called with Eagletronics. Both teams were able to build prototypes before the state tournament and Pandamonium decide that they would do their presentation as a short play instead.

For the robotics challenge both teams decided to incorporate the animal conservation challenge; this was a high scoring challenge which earned both teams competing in robot game points. The teams rational were if they did not do the challenge and did not face a team that did then they could not finish in the top four. Sabretooth Cyborgs developed a philosophy “Think Twice, Code Once”; they implemented this by doing mindmaps, functional diagrams and flow diagrams before coding.

Before the state tournament both teams presented about the FLL and their projects to the general public at Explora Adult Night. They should people how to code the robots, talked about their research projects and informed people about FLL and how they could get involved. They talked to over 50 people and helped NM FLL sign up over a dozen volunteers.

Presenting at Explora

On Saturday 11th February 2017 the teams made the short trip to Menaul School in Albuquerque for the NM FLL State Tournament. The teams competed against nearly 40 teams from across New Mexico. It was a chance to make new friends and to catch up with some old friends. Sabretooth Cyborgs ran another wolf quiz and both teams helped run a People Quiz; you had to find other FLL team members that matched the different criteria in a 3×3 grid, this was designed to get teams to interact with each other.

After a morning of presentations the teams began their three rounds of robotics competition. Issues with alignment and completing the food dispenser task cost Sabretooth Cyborgs in their 1st and 2nd matches. They were able to post a respectful score of 84 in their final robotics match. Pandamonium struggled with completing the animal exchange and finished with a highest score of 117. The Split Atoms achieved the highest score at the state tournament of 190.

Sabretooth Cyborgs won the Innovation & Strategy award, the judges were very impressed by the “Think Twice, Code Once” philosophy and implementation. Pandamonium won the Research Award, they judges were impressed by the depth and breadth of the research they undertook; from reading articles, speaking to experts and interacting with other teams. The Programming Wizards were crowned the NM State champions. They were a very approachable team and agreed to come to the 2017 Robo-Olympics to talk about the FLL and present the awards to the winning teams.

The Gear Squad, Roxie Rockers, Split Atoms and FFEC Programming Wizards made up the top four teams in New Mexico, these teams automatically qualified for regional and international competitions organised by FIRST. For a full list of all the winners from the NM FLL State Tournament please check the NM FLL website (www.nmfll.org).

Team members, coaches and family members celebrating at the NM State Tournament

The teams thought that the NM FLL State tournament would be the end of their journey in their rooky year. The teams had won five trophies, made some great connection with other teams and were able to compete against some very experienced teams. A few weeks after the state tournament the NM FLL organizers contact the Sabretooth Cyborgs team and asked if they would like to compete in the Mountain State Invitational tournament to be held in July 2017 at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. The Sabretooth Cyborgs students, their parents and the coaches discussed what financial, time and effort commitment would be needed to participate in the tournament. They all decided that this was an opportunity too good to pass and so accepted the invitation. A few weeks later the same invitation was offered to team Pandamonium. A similar discussion took place and the same conclusions was reached, both teams would be attending the Mountain State Invitational tournament; preparation for the tournament began in earnest as soon as they invitations were accepted.

As well as upgrades to the research project, robot and core values the teams had to raise funds to cover the cost of travelling and attending the invitational tournament. NM FLL was able to help with fundraising and ICNM held a fundraiser which covered most of the costs. The teams each had a target of raising $500 towards the cost. They did this by selling chocolate, doing bake sales and even by selling Henna Tattoos at their schools. Both teams exceeded their $500 target.

Pandamonium decided to go for an evolutionary approach to their robot; they upgrade their robot from the state tournament, combined some challenges but mainly focused on developing a highly reliable robot. They still employed the loop strategy to reduce the risk of a low scoring run. Sabretooth Cyborgs took a revolutionary approach. They build a new robot for the Mountain State Invitational. Their approach was to do multiple challenges at once and to use large structures to assist with the challenges. Pandamonium aimed to score 220 points and Sabretooth Cyborgs were aiming for a similar score at the West Virginia tournament.

Pandamonium’s Robot for the Mountain State Invitational
Sabretooth Cyborgs Robot for Mountain State Invitational

For the project both teams briefed their project back to the initial experts that had helped with the problem statement, this meant field trips to the Albuquerque Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Sabretooth Cyborgs add some visual to help with their presentation while Pandamonium updated their play based on the feedback from the bee expert.

The months between the New Mexico State Tournament and the Mountain State Invitational Tournament provided an opportunity for the teams to reflect on and improve their core value skills. Sabretooth Cyborgs watched videos of their past presentation and did some individual and group analysis to improve their presentation style. Both team also did team building exercises to explore how their team dynamic worked and how could it be improved.

Both teams wanted to give something back to the local community and members from both teams mentored students who were undertaking the Robotics Beginners Curriculum at ICNM in 2017. This gave the team members an opportunity to “coach” a team and learn the thin line between guiding and doing. The team members should great maturity in how they handled interesting situations whilst mentoring.

After many months of preparation the tournament was final upon the teams and they made their way to West Virginia. Some flew but the majority drove the 1700 miles from Albuquerque to Fairmont State University.

Pandamonium and Sabretooth Cyborgs at the Fairmont Mountain State Tournament
Meeting teams from Brazil

Sabretooth Cyborgs finished 12th in the robotics performance with a score of 173 and Pandamonium finished 19th with a score of 155. The winning team scored 312 points. All the team members, coaches and parents had an amazing time at the Mountain State Invitational and enjoyed meetings teams from all around the world. Sabretooth Cyborgs were awarded the Core Values award with the judges very impressed by their team working spirit and fundraising activities. This was one of the few occasions when a team from New Mexico had won an award at an international FLL tournament. This achievement was recognised by Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Sabretooth Cyborgs meeting Albuquerque Mayor


Recognition by the ABQ Journal of ICNM FLL teams success
Recognition by Sen. Heinrich of ICNM FLL teams success at the NASA sponsored Mountain State Invitational tournament.

The Mountain State Invitational tournament and the recognition afterwards was the perfect way to complete the FLL Season. The 2016-2017 season was a rewarding experience for the children, coaches and their families and spurred many of them to continue with FLL into the 2017-2018 season.