BEAVERCREEK — Members of the QuickBots — a FIRST LEGO League team based in Beavercreek — thought they were joining a rather generic video chat during the Global Innovation Award competition in June.
“They asked us to meet up in a Zoom meeting,” said team member Tessa Merkel, 13. “We had (also) been there the year before.”
Then came the shocker.
“Instead they told us we were one of the runners-up,” Merkel said. “It was crazy. We were definitely not expecting it. We didn’t know how to react.”
Eventually the group of seven figured out what had just happened. Out of the top 20 from around the world, the QuickBots team was runner-up — along with 8 to Automate from the Columbus area — and will receive a $5,000 prize. Aldeatrón Robotix, Spain was the winner and will receive a $20,000 prize.
“No words to describe it,” said Andrew Forsthoefel, 14.
Good thing too, since the team found out a day early and was not allowed to tell anyone. Their celebration included a team photo and celebratory laps around the house, according to Joe Merkel, 16.
“Besides that, we kept quiet,” he said.
The Global Innovation Award showcases the real-world, innovative solutions created by FIRST LEGO League teams from around the world as part of their annually themed challenge. FIRST LEGO League combines robotics, core values, and the theme-based challenge to encourage STEM careers.
The QuickBots’ innovative solution to this year’s theme — City Shapers — was Polar Play, a solar-reflective, color-changing coating that prevents injuries. Team members discovered that many playground injuries are due to play equipment becoming too hot for kids to safely use, even when air temperatures are mild. The team wanted to make sure playgrounds are fun and safe places for communities, so it developed the paintable coating, while using last year’s semifinals as a reference for maximizing its chances to win.
Due to the coronavirus, the competition took place virtually with teams from the United States, Netherlands (Holland), Israel, Spain, Brazil, and Denmark joining online. That proved to be tougher than the competition itself.
“It was a big challenge getting everyone connected to everyone’s computers and making sure it connected and didn’t lag over the internet,” said Sam Geelhood, 14, one of three Beavercreek residents on the team.
A lot of work went into just coordinating that effort, according to Clare Han, 14, another Beavercreek resident.
“We did a lot of practices,” she said. “We actually had some meetings all of us together, but on separate computers. We were practicing where other people were in separate houses. We had a couple issues we had to deal with. We’re glad we got it to work.”
During the three-day event, the QuickBots went through two rounds of judging. In addition to submitting documents and photos to post, each team recorded a video as a part of their pit display to explain the team project. They didn’t have to perform any robotics like they did in other competitions.
“It was (just) all of our projects,” said Joshua Han, 13, the third Beavercreek resident on the team.
After their judging, team members thought they did well. At least better than last year, when the QuickBots team was also in the top 20.
“I feel like we did pretty well,” Geelhood said. “It was very unlike last year. We were kind of able to gauge how judges reacted this year.”
Joe Merkel said being in the top 20 last year gave them “a step up” on the competition with regards to being able to explain their project and how to carry themselves.
Coach Amy Han said the team’s goal was to be the first Ohio team to make a repeat appearance in the top 20. Han was assisted by Ellen Merkel.
“I am so proud of all the hard work and perseverance the kids showed,” Amy Han said. “ … with over 200 hours of testing done on their product, not only did they figure out how to return, they were able to be named one of the top three in the world.”
And win the $5,000 prize that comes with being a runner-up. The team isn’t sure what it will do with the prize or how it will be split. But Matthew Lee, 12, doesn’t care.
He had likely the best reaction to the announcement.
“Money!” he said.
Team members also recently found out that a two-bucket water filtration system for third-world countries they created a couple years ago received a patent.