By: Andrea Kealoha
Innovative solutions are borne through inspiration, teamwork, and an attitude that combines friendly competition with mutual gain. These core values were at play last fall when 15 fun-loving and highly motivated fourth and fifth graders from Kea’au Elementary School on the Big Island won a 3rd place prize for their marine debris solution in a FIRST®LEGO® League (FLL) competition.
The students, part of the elementary school’s LunaTechs robotics team, participated in the 2013 NATURE’S FURY Challenge, where over 200,000 children from over 70 countries were challenged to develop an innovative solution that helps communities prepare, stay safe, or rebuild after a natural disaster.
The team chose to focus on marine debris generated from tsunamis, a natural disaster that Hawaii has experienced in the past. As part of their initial research, the LunaTechs visited the Pacific Tsunami Center in Hilo and the Department of Civil Defense. They also participated in beach cleanups, collecting debris from Waiolena and Waiʻuli Beach Parks. Through these events, the LunaTechs became particularly interested in the threats associated with marine debris carrying invasive species.
The LunaTechs’ goal was to find a creative way to track Japan tsunami marine debris to monitor possible invasive species that could harm the natural habitat in Hawaii.
The first step in their project was to gain an understanding of current detection efforts (e.g. satellite tracking, modeling maps, and at-sea detection) and limitations associated with them (e.g. dispersal of debris makes tracking by satellite harder, debris may be in remote places).
The LunaTechs brainstormed and developed an idea to build an intricate framework of interactive robots, called LunaBots, which communicate with each other from a satellite in space, to flying robots in the atmosphere, to floating robots in the surface ocean, and finally, to aquatic robots submerged within the depths of the ocean. Consistent, collaborative communication between these robots would improve monitoring efforts on debris that poses a potential threat to the environment, humans, and navigation.
In addition, the LunaTechs ran a booth at their community’s first Emergency Preparation Fair. Their booth had informational posters and handouts about invasive species and marine debris, along with an interactive quiz game. The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, Kyle Koyanagi, assisted the LunaTechs with expertise on marine debris problems and solutions in Hawaii.
The Marine Debris Program congratulates the LunaTechs for finishing 3rd place in the Robot Performance component, receiving the FLL Core Values Award, and for showing dedication to their community by working toward finding innovative solutions to combat marine debris! Congratulations LunaTechs!