TONIGHT–Shelton robotics team raising funds for World Championship

It’s been an exciting robotics season for the seventh grade “dream team” at Shelton Intermediate School called “SIStematic,” but it’s not over yet, as members are currently preparing for their next challenge, the First Lego League World Championship that will take place in April in St. Louis, Mo.

With 30,000 kids participating, an estimated 65,000 spectators and fans watching, nearly 1,500 teams competing, and 39 countries coming together, there will be 2,400 volunteers helping to make the event all possible.

SIStematic team members, all seventh graders, include Austin D’Aulizio, Connor Dapp, Diya Patel, Josh Mallette, Katie Daxner, Michael Caruso, Ria Dalvi, and Shayaan Dabiran.

The coaches for the enthusiastic team are Ashish Dalvi and Michelle Piccolo.

It’s been quite a journey, and the team’s next step became official when the city’s Board of Education approved its trip to St. Louis from April 26 to 29.

The road to the world championship

The teammates and coaches for SIStematic are full of energy and dolphin noises each time they discuss this year’s quest for the FLL World Championship.

Between now and the day of the competition in late April, team members are attempting to raise as much money as possible to cover their expenses while on the trip. The total cost of the trip will run the team a total of $25,000.

The students may have won the state championship, but according to Piccolo, they are aware that there’s still a good deal of work ahead.

“We’re back to meeting every Saturday and working from around 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.,” said Piccolo. “The kids are currently tweaking their presentation before the next round of competition and adding more information. We’ve begun working with other coaches and teams just to make sure all of the necessary information is in there.”

What is bycatch?

The FLL championships have three components — addressing a global issue, building a robot that is made of Legos, and displaying “core values” — and competing teams are judged in each of the three areas.  

SIStematic decided that its global issue would be “by-catch,” or the act of capturing a marine creature while fishing commercially. The team focused specifically on the bycatch of dolphins.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, the team demonstrated how dolphins can become caught in commercial nylon fishing nets after pursuing fish that have already been caught.

Dolphins use their echolocation to locate the fish they would normally eat, but the team identified that the primary cause of bycatch is their inability to sense these commercial nylon fishing nets.

Marine creatures that are accidentally caught in these nets rarely are ever able to swim the same due to injuries and often die due to lack of oxygen.

How does the team plan to address the issue?

In an attempt prevent such a large number of bycatch from occurring, SIStematic created an invention called the “Alumi-neco net,” which uses aluminum beads to help dolphins sense the commercial fishermen’s presence.

The team chose to place aluminum beads on the net because the cost of the material is 50 cents per pound, which adds up to 10 cents more per square foot of netting. Aluminum beads also aren’t affected by salt water.

No overnight success

“I love these kids and have actually been working with them since they were 5th graders so seeing their progression as a team has been amazing. You know the way they come together and work so hard each day makes me super proud of them all the time,” said Piccolo. “We are totally bonded and are always excited to see each other,” said Piccolo. “Some things that they struggled with as 5th graders, the team is excelling at as 7th graders.”

Coach Piccolo said she is so impressed with the team’s creation that she believes it could actually be used to address the global bycatch issue.

A part of the FLL program is the Global Innovation Award, which Shelton won a few years ago, and is awarded to the team that created a project that actually addresses their selected global issue. In order to win the award, a team submits an application to test whether or not their invention could actually be a patented product. If FLL thinks that it could be, then it’s taken to U.S. Patent and Trade Office and the team is then helped through the process. The solutions are then judged and the winner is decided.

“It’s amazing and a great idea, we all hope that it is a tool that could be used to really help save dolphins,” said Piccolo.

According to Piccolo, anyone who isn’t able to make the team’s first official fundraiser can still donate by writing a check addressed to the Shelton Intermediate School or donate to the team’s GoFundMe account