Bots built of bricks

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  • Caleb Wessels, left, and Carol Lin Armstrong set up the competition table before doing a test run with Botman the robot. The two are part of the Xanterra team from Coeur d’Alene that is going to Houston, Texas, to compete in the First Lego League world championship competition.

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    BETHANY BLITZ/Press Caleb Wessels, right, fixes some components of Botman the robot while his teammate, Conner Zeff, left, works on the robot’s coding.

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    BETHANY BLITZ/Press From left to right, Cole McCarthy, Conner Zeff and Austin Blaschka practice reading their lines for Xanterra’s presentation at the First Lego League world championship competition in Houston,Texas.

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    Photos: BETHANY BLITZ/Press Team Xanterra does a group huddle at the end of its practice March 10. The Lego League team from Coeur d’Alene is gearing up to compete in Houston, Texas at the First Lego League world championship competition. From left to right: Cole McCarthy, Austin Blaschka, Caleb Wessels, Coach Chris Armstrong, Carol Lin Armstrong, Coach Josh Sherman, Emma Armstrong, Kaia Sherman, Conner Zeff, Caleigh Sherman and Coach Jamie Sherman.

  • Caleb Wessels, left, and Carol Lin Armstrong set up the competition table before doing a test run with Botman the robot. The two are part of the Xanterra team from Coeur d’Alene that is going to Houston, Texas, to compete in the First Lego League world championship competition.

  • 1

    BETHANY BLITZ/Press Caleb Wessels, right, fixes some components of Botman the robot while his teammate, Conner Zeff, left, works on the robot’s coding.

  • 2

    BETHANY BLITZ/Press From left to right, Cole McCarthy, Conner Zeff and Austin Blaschka practice reading their lines for Xanterra’s presentation at the First Lego League world championship competition in Houston,Texas.

  • 3

    Photos: BETHANY BLITZ/Press Team Xanterra does a group huddle at the end of its practice March 10. The Lego League team from Coeur d’Alene is gearing up to compete in Houston, Texas at the First Lego League world championship competition. From left to right: Cole McCarthy, Austin Blaschka, Caleb Wessels, Coach Chris Armstrong, Carol Lin Armstrong, Coach Josh Sherman, Emma Armstrong, Kaia Sherman, Conner Zeff, Caleigh Sherman and Coach Jamie Sherman.

The Bot Cave has been found underneath a Coeur d’Alene home. Not the Bat Cave, the Bot Cave — the headquarters for the Xanterra First Lego League team.

Inside the lair a replica of the world championship competition table stands in the middle of the room, a large box of Lego pieces sits in a corner, sticky notes spell out “TEAM” on the wall and a funding thermometer measures how much money the team has raised.

Xanterra, a group of eight students from all over Coeur d’Alene, is putting together the final touches to its robot, presentation and team building skills before it heads to Houston, Texas, for the First Lego League world championship competition in April.

“We’re very excited,” said Caleb Wessels, a seventh-grader from Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy. The 4-year-old team has done well in the past, but has never made it to the world championships before.

“We’ve worked super hard for months and months on this,” said Caleigh Sherman, a freshman at Lake City High School. “I’m super excited for our team and to interact with people of all different cultures [at the competition].”

Botman, the robot the team built, performs tasks on the competition table, such as relocating Lego pieces, pressing levers and navigating the course itself. The team gets points for each task their robot performs and how well the tasks are executed.

As a fun feature, the team programmed Botman to play the Batman theme song when it moves.

The team will also be judged on its core values and its team project. Team members will be prompted with a problem they have to solve using team-building skills.

Each year, First Lego League has a theme. This year's theme is "animal allies." The Coeur d’Alene team chose to work on the relationship between humans, honey bees and varroa mites for its project.

Varroa mites are parasites to honey bees — they suck out all their blood, killing the bee. The team found out there are two ways that beekeepers protect their bees from them: using harsh chemicals and dusting the bees with powdered sugar so the varroa mites can’t latch on to the bees.

Both methods are intrusive, so for their project, the team came up with a way to dust the bees with powdered sugar as they enter their hive, without disrupting the whole colony.

The team will present its project to judges in Houston.

“We are all good at everything, we all do all of it,” Caleb said as he fine-tuned some programming on Botman while other team members worked on the presentation. “Programming is my favorite part because it lets me experiment with things I normally don’t get to.”

The team has been reaching out to the community to get donations so it can travel to Houston. It’s already received almost $9,000 from local businesses, but still needs $4,000 more.

Emma Armstrong, a fifth-grader at Ramsey Magnet School of Science, said participating on the team has brought her out of her shell.

“I was really shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone, but being on this team and getting to know people, I interact with people more,” she said. “Building and programming are really fun for me and my favorite part about the competitions is at the end when you’re waiting to hear the results.”

Connor Zeff, a seventh-grader at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, also came out of his shell since joining the team, according to his mother.

“I love this club, even just for the sake of the teamwork,” said Aida Zeff, Connor’s mom. “They have an opportunity to learn how to involve each other and bring each talent into this — it’s all their creativity and inspiration.”

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