Girls’ Robotics Team Takes Championship

Soon the world will be filled with robots that help us with tasks that we no longer can or want to do. Just ask local robotics team Neon Spirit. They are a FIRST Lego League (FLL) team of five sixth and seventh grade girls – Kate Donnelly, Sara Donnelly, and Catherine Vucetic of Holmdel, Tara Crilly of Shrewsbury, and Corri Villany of Colts Neck – who are working with robots and inventing solutions to help seniors in the future. They competed against 123 other FLL teams and won the first place Champion’s Award at the Delaware Region Championship Tournament, as well as the first place Robot Performance Award. This allowed them to advance to the Delaware State Competition in February, where their robot again outperformed the competition by a wide margin, winning the first place Robot Performance Award with a total of 557 points.

FLL is a robotics program for nine- to 14-year-olds designed to get children excited about science and technology and inspire future scientists and engineers with real-world challenges. The competition consists of a project and a robot game. In the robot game, they build a robot with a LEGO Mindstorm kit and use it to complete missions on a themed field. In the challenge, points are given for different tasks completed and teams try to complete as many tasks as they can in 2 ½ minutes. Each team gets three rounds on the competition table, with the best of their three rounds counting for their high score. The team with the highest score after three rounds wins the Robot Game.

Besides the Robot Game, teams have to identify, research, and invent an innovative solution to a real world problem. Each year, there is a different theme. This year, the theme was Nature’s Fury and teams had to think about different ways to prepare, stay safe, and/or recover from natural disasters. Neon Spirit’s innovation was based on real problems that many local towns had during Superstorm Sandy. Although towns had mandatory evacuations, since many residents had just evacuated the previous year during Hurricane Irene but incurred only inconvenience for that, they chose not to evacuate during Sandy. This led to chaos within towns, where the Office of Emergency Management did not know the status of who was in town and who was not after the storm hit. In order to better inform the town personnel and help them manage the crisis, team Neon Spirit invented the LMK Did You Go system, which keeps track of the evacuation state of residents by use of both Code Red responses as well as a mobile app to collect data. They believe this solution would greatly help towns manage natural disasters and keep residents safer.

All competition is governed by the Core Values, such as Gracious Professionalism®, which is the ethos of FIRST- fierce competition coupled with unqualified kindness and respect. These values teach children to compete in a fair way, cheering on their competitors while they are trying to beat them. Teamwork is evaluated by giving teams a spontaneous problem solving challenge in which teams are given five minutes to complete a task. Team Neon Spirit performed perfectly on their task to have half of their team replicate a LEGO construction without seeing the original structure, guided only by the verbal directions from the other half of their team who can see the original structure.

The Champion’s Award is the most prestigious award that any team can win. It encompasses the key elements of the Technical and Performance Awards and celebrates the ultimate success of the FIRST mission and FLL values. It measures how the children inspire and motivate others about the excitement of science and technology, solving problems, working as a team, and demonstrating respect and gracious professionalism.

This was the students’ third year competing together. Next year’s theme is going to be World Class, where teams will explore what learning will be like in future classrooms.

FIRST was founded in 1989 and sponsors programs for students in grades K-12, with total participation of over 20,000 teams in 70 countries. For more information, go to To contact Neon Spirit, email the coaches at