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Boys on a mission
Kids learn more about alternative energy and robotics as part of an international Lego competition
NRG, a Lego robotics team of home-schooled boys, runs a mission it designed. From left are Josh Krout, 13, Thomas Fuller, 12, Dylan Easterday, 10, Jonathan Diaddigo, 10, and Tanner Easterday, 14. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan
GAINESVILLE — Researching green power and alternative energy for a local church and building a robot out of Legos is all part of a special project for a group of home-schooled children.

The group of eight boys, whose ages range from 9 and 14, is a rookie team that planned to compete Saturday in a regional First Lego League competition called "Power Puzzle," held in Warner Robins.

"This is an international competition; it’s all over the world," said Melinda Easterday, parent and coach of the Lego Robotics team called NRG. "It’s sponsored in Georgia by Georgia Tech; the state finals will be at Georgia Dome Feb. 9. ... The top three teams in each regional tournament will progress to the state tournament."

Easterday added that the competition Saturday comprisesd missions to research alternative energy.

"They have to present it in a creative way so they are doing a news report on it," Easterday said.

The competition is finalized with technical judging.

The group of students has been researching alternative energy and energy use for about two months at The Church of the Hills in Duluth.

Rees Waite, building committee chairman at The Church of the Hills, helped the boys learn about energy use at the church.

"We met at the church and toured and looked at all of the aspects of the church from the outside in," he said. "They took from that and made their recommendations."

The team also had help from Alan Shedd, an engineer at Jackson EMC.

Tanner Easterday, the oldest member of NRG, said they had several recommendations for more efficient energy use at the church.

"We walked around the church and looked at things like, ‘Did it have insulation?’" Easterday said. "One of the biggest things that we found was the power with the lights. We thought to install motion sensor lights because many of the lights were being left on in classrooms.

"We looked at several other things like solar power as a long-term thing and geothermal energy."

Waite said the church will take into consideration NRG’s suggestions.

"They had recommendations for the mechanical systems to be more efficient," he said. "And lighting, like newer types of light bulbs."

NRG team member Thomas Fuller thinks it is important to be conscious of energy use, especially at local churches.

"I think we think we need to be stewards about our supplies," he said. "We are kind of running out of energy and starting to have more needs for energy, so I think it is a way for us to find more usable energy in the world. I started to actually learn not just about solar energy but more varieties of energy."

Beyond helping the church with an energy audit, the team had to create a robot out of Legos, a kit that costs about $200. It performs tasks like building a dam and setting up wind turbines.

"The kids have been much better at programming the robot than I could ever teach them," said Kent Easterday, parent and team coach. "My job is, and every parent’s is, to help as a coach, and we have all jumped in to help out the kids. As far as programming the robot, we will give little suggestions, but they have come up with ways to solve problems."

During the competition, the team has two minutes and 30 seconds to complete as many missions as possible.

"(During the mission) we have to move the power lines and they have to be touching some part around the power plant," Dylan Easterday said. "The wind turbines have to be in the same area and we get another bonus."

Tanner Easterday added that "The dam was the hardest thing — to try to get it to turn and line up properly."

Other members of the NRG team include Jonathan Diaddigo, Josh Krout, Dylan Usher and twin brothers Keenan and Norris Nicholson.

Diaddigo said his favorite part of the competition was building the Lego models.

"I don’t really program that much; I usually like to build," he said.

There were a couple of tweaks that had to be made to the robot to complete the Lego missions more efficiently.

"Originally when we built it, it had a rotating wheel and we discovered that when we started backing up the wheel would fold up," Tanner Easterday said. "So what we did different than other robots is we took the wheel off and we put a tail drag, like on old airplanes, just to give it balance, and that way it can turn better with the two wheels."