Calvin Miller and Charlie Deach work on Quillliam the robot during the Southeast Robotics competition. Courtesy photo by Andy Miller


One of Skagway School’s FIRST Lego League Robotics teams is on its way to compete in the state championships in Anchorage in January after claiming the champion’s trophy at the Juneau Jamboree.
The Prickles, named after the porcupine, scored high enough during the 10th annual SE competition on Dec. 10, to qualify the team for the state challenge.
Although the team was unable to travel to Juneau for the competition due to a canceled ferry, they were able to compete via Skype with a 6-pound robot called “Quilliam.”
Ursusbots, another Skagway team, also competed virtually.
“Both the Ursusbots and The Prickles did amazing against the 25 Southeast teams,” said Prickles team coach Andrew Miller. “It was a lot of fun and great sportsmanship between the two teams. The winner of six different categories moves on the State Championship in Anchorage. The Ursusbots just missed out of advancing.”
Lego robots, like Quilliam, are infinitely programmable. During competitive events, the robots face Lego-constructed obstacle courses with pre-set programs written by the teams. Teams are judged on their robot design and performance scores.
Quilliam has two large wheels, and two ball bearings that keep the robot balanced and allow for 360-degree turns in tight spaces. The robot is also equipped with touch sensors and color sensors. It can even say a few words like “Okee dokee,” at the beginning of a task.
“We programed our robot to move and we have arms that have motors so they can go up and down,” said Peyton Rodig, whose older sister was also on a winning robotics team.
“[The robots] don’t use what you would think of as regular Lego pieces—the square blocks with the connecter pieces. We have pegs and technic pieces that connect to each other and they can move,” Miller said.  “So, it’s much different than what you think of, when you think of playing with Legos.”
The team worked together on Quilliam’s design. Quilliam has been redesigned several times. Team members all voted on which wheels to use, and also on the motors and sensors.
The teams are not only judged on their robotics, but also in categories of “core values,” and on a separate themed project.
Core values for a team can include cooperation and communication among members, to problem-solving skills and team-building exercises.
There is also a project each team must work on. The project theme for 2016 is “Animal Allies.”
For this, the team of five veterans and five newbies, decided on a porcupine quill removal kit called “Quills-b-gone.” The specialized first aid kit is good for the removal of between 15 and 29 quills, the instructions explain. The kit contains a soothing, lavender and balm to calm the freshly quilled, canine patient. There are tools for quill removal and step-by-step instructions on laminated cards. There is even a “what to do,” if the pet’s human needs to call a veterinarian.
“We had to find a problem that was with human and animal interactions and conflicts. So we made a kit that helped remove porcupine quills from dogs,” Rodig said. “We can’t expect people to know how [to remove quills from dogs].”
Most of the team members said they have had dogs get quilled. Because there is no veterinarian service in Skagway, the kit can help pet owners quickly remove quills without having to send pets out to Juneau or drive them up to Whitehorse.
The teams are also challenged with community outreach-based service projects. One project The Prickles took on was helping the janitor clean the school. Another project was baking cookies for the volunteer fire department. “But we burnt them,” various team members chimed in, laughing. Team members quickly baked another batch of cookies for the actual delivery. The team also made Thank You cards for military veterans in the community.
The Prickles scored high enough in all categories to be named champion of the Juneau Jamboree and will move on to the Anchorage Rendevous on Jan. 11.