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Updated: Jul 10, 2023

The FIRST LEGO League Challenge (formerly known as FIRST LEGO League) is an international competition[1] organized by FIRST for elementary and middle school students (ages 9–14 in the United States and Canada, 9–16 elsewhere).[1]

Each year in August,[2] FIRST LEGO League Challenge teams are introduced to a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus and research on.[3] The robotics part of the competition involves designing and programming Lego Education robots[4] to complete tasks. The students work out a solution to a problem related to the theme (changes every year) and then meet for regional, national and international tournaments to compete, share their knowledge, compare ideas, and display their robots.

The FIRST LEGO League Challenge is a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO Group. It is the third division of FIRST LEGO League, following FIRST LEGO League Discover for ages 4-6, and FIRST Lego League Explore for ages 6-10.[5]

Competition details[edit]

At the beginning of the competition season, FIRST sends a set of official competition materials to each registered team, consisting of a 'challenge mat', LEGO electronic and mechanical components, and instructions for building the items for the mat (collectively known as the Challenge Set, formerly the Field Setup Kit). The teams also receive a list of tasks, called 'missions', to complete involving each model on the mat (e.g. taking a loose piece from one model and placing it inside another). The FIRST LEGO League Challenge gives teams complete freedom on how to complete the missions, providing that they are completed by a programmed LEGO Education robot with no outside assistance. The robot has two and a half minutes to complete the missions; called the Robot Game. Each team has a minimum build period of 8 weeks to analyze the challenge mat, design and build a LEGO Education robot, and program it to fulfill the given missions in any manner they see fit. The robot must be autonomous,[6] and may contain only one LEGO Education programmable block and no more than four motors.

In addition to the live robot run, or Robot Game, the competition has three additional judged sections with the purpose of providing teams with feedback on their achievement of the FIRST LEGO League Challenge learning objectives. The first judging session, Core Values,[2] is designed to determine how the team works together and uses the FIRST LEGO League Core Values in everything they do, which include inspiration, teamwork, Gracious Professionalism, and Coopertition. In addition to discussing how their team exhibits these values, teams may also be asked to perform a teamwork activity, usually timed, to see how the team works together to solve a new problem. Secondly, in the Robot Design, or technical judging,[2] the team demonstrates the mechanical design, programming, and strategy/innovation of their robot. The goal of this judging session is to see what the robot “should” do during the Robot Game. Thirdly, in the Project,[2] the students must give a 5-minute presentation on the research of a topic related to the current challenge. The required steps of the project as teams to first identify a problem that is related to the topic of that year's competition, then create an innovative solution to their identified problem by modifying something that already exists or creating something completely new (an "innovative solution"), and then they must share that solution with others, such as real-world professionals who have expertise in the annual challenge theme.[7]

Table performance

Team members set up their autonomous built for the 2017 Hydro Dynamics playing field.

When the official competition convenes, each team brings their robot to compete on an official challenge mat identical to their own. Two team members are allowed at the board during a match; however, they can switch out with others in the team. In the case of a serious problem, such as the entire robot breaking down, the entire team is allowed at the board for as long as the problem persists. Members are not permitted to bring additional robots or any other items to the board during the competition.

The robot starts in an area marked as 'base', a white area in the corner or to one side of the table. While at base, two team members are allowed to touch the robot and start programs. If the team touches the robot outside of base (an 'interruption'), the referee will issue a penalty, resulting in the removal of a Precision Token. These are stationary LEGO models that increase the final score if they remain until the end, providing an incentive to not interrupt the robot. The robot is not required to return to base; some teams have completed all their missions without returning to base during the time allowed to complete the missions. In fact, in the 2008–09,[8] 2009–10,[9] 2011-13 and 2021 challenges, points were awarded if the robot was in one of two specified areas, not including base, at the end of the two and a half minute match.

Parts and Robotic platforms

Participants build robots with kits such as these.

FIRST LEGO League Challenge teams may use "any LEGO-made building parts in their original factory condition[10]" to construct their robots. The robots are programmed using any language allowing autonomous movement. Many teams opt for a block-based programming environment such as the official EV3 software, the official NXT-G software (now outdated), or Robolab. All these are built around Labview.

The robots used are Lego Education units. Until 2021, the platform of choice was the Lego Mindstorm EV3. While the EV3 will still be permitted in FLL competitions, starting in August 2022, the Guided Mission will only be available for SPIKE Prime.

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