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Muirlands robotics students are on a mission to help peers be more active

The Muirlands Master Builders robotics team created a website promoting physical activity as part of a competition.
Anya Rastogi, Johanne Petersen, Alejandro Juarez, Kanoa Hsieh and Andrew Lee (from left), members of the Muirlands Master Builders robotics team, created a website promoting physical activity as part of a competition in which they have qualified for the championship round.
(Courtesy)

As part of its entry in the Southern California First Lego League competition, a La Jolla student robotics team has created a website designed to encourage physical activity at home.

Kanoa Hsieh, Alejandro Juarez, Andrew Lee, Johanne Petersen and Anya Rastogi are members of the Muirlands Master Builders team, which formed at the end of the summer and has been working together since. It was one of four teams to advance in the competition in a qualifying round March 6 and is now setting its sights on the championship round scheduled for Saturday, April 17.

All five members are in sixth grade at Muirlands Middle School, though the team is not a school-sponsored activity.

One component of the competition was to address the decline in physical activity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team decided to create a website, “something everyone can use; it’s free for everyone,” Anya said.

The Muirlands Master Builders website, mastergym.us, contains submitted videos of people doing something active.
The Muirlands Master Builders website, mastergym.us, contains submitted videos of people doing something active.
(Courtesy)

Johanne said the website, mastergym.us, was inspired by the app TikTok, “where people can record videos of themselves. Since we had to create something to get people to be more active, we decided to make a website where people could basically submit videos of themselves doing something active. People could see each other doing cool stuff and maybe be inspired to do that.”

The website sorts submitted videos into different categories: “Warm-Ups,” “Cool Down,” “Yoga” and “Fun & Games.” It also contains a feature “to put an emoji over your face” to protect privacy, Johanne said.

Within the categories, she said, “there’s an option where you can take a video of yourself throwing a ball to someone offscreen, and then you can send that to us and we can put it into this big chain we have so it looks like you’re throwing it to the next person.”

Staying active, Andrew said, “is really important for everyone that’s stuck at home. Everyone could use something that will make them excited to do some exercising.”

He said the website is designed for children his age. “A lot of Peloton bikes and treadmills are focused toward adults, so we are trying to help younger kids like us find a way to get better exercise.”

Anya said “we hope that others use it and that it helps them improve their way of exercising. It’s very beneficial.”

It took the team a few hours to create the website, according to team coach Adam Hsieh, Kanoa’s father. The team, tasked with seeking feedback from experts as part of the project, asked physical education coaches from Muirlands and La Jolla Elementary School — which the students attended last year — to listen to its project idea and review the website, Hsieh said.

The team then made changes to the site based on the coaches’ suggestions, he said.

As part of the First Lego League robotics competition, the Muirlands Master Builders submitted videos explaining their robot.
As part of the Southern California First Lego League robotics competition, the Muirlands Master Builders team submitted videos explaining its robot.
(Courtesy)

However, the main portion of the First Lego League tournament is robotics. The team had to submit several videos about its tournament robot, explaining and demonstrating how it works, Alejandro said. The videos were created in the Hsiehs’ garage.

The team built its robot from Lego Technic parts, as required by FLL, and then programmed it using Lego Mindstorms software, Hsieh said. “The software allows the team to piece together long strings of commands in a program and upload them to the robot. These programs tell the robot how to use its sensors to get cues from its environment and how to use its motors to move itself and its attachments to perform actions around the board.”

During the competition, held virtually due to the pandemic, teams must answer questions about their projects and core values, Alejandro said.

Hsieh said the team members participated in robotics teams at La Jolla Elementary. “This year, we’ve had to improvise and figure out ways to do things remotely,” he said. With the teams not being able to get together all the time, “it’s been a little bit more difficult.” ◆