Did you know that America uses enough Keurig (K) Cups in one year to wrap around the world 10.8 times? That’s a lot of waste and the Brainy Yaks at Cannon School are doing something about it.

The Brainy Yaks, a competitive robotics team for middle school students, have put those K-Cups to good use by creating a quadratic sound diffuser to reduce noise in the school’s cafeteria. The team is going to present its creation during the First Lego League State Championships on the campus of North Carolina A&T University this weekend. In order to compete, each team had to create a project and complete robotics missions with programmable robots made out of Lego’s.

This year, the theme for the tournament revolves around recycling, which led the team to the K-Cups idea. The mission is to reuse trash items to solve a problem.

“Dealing with these problems introduces the kids to real-world problem-solving. These are authentic problems they have to solve,” said Leigh Northup, dean of innovation and technology and Brainy Yak advisor.      

Northrup has been advising the Brainy Yaks for 12 years. Students apply to be a part of the team and he selects the ones he believes will be dedicated. They do their researching and project-testing in the school’s Think Tank, a room where anything and everything can be created. They meet after school and during lunch.

“The team is much more than playing with Legos. A lot more goes into it,” Northrup said. “It’s for kids that are really interested in STEM and I know will be dedicated to the program.”

Team member Maddie Reiss said the team started by looking at six or seven types of problems they could solve after talking about how K-Cups are bad for the environment. After much discussion with Northrup, they landed on the noise in the cafeteria.

“The noise in the lunchroom is equivalent to a jet taking off next to you,” team member Harshini Gadudasu said. “We set up and recorded the sound one day and a bee came into the lunchroom. People were screaming when it came in and clapping when it went outside.”

Cannon School’s cafeteria reached sound levels of 90+sound decibels and the team’s diffuser can lower the echo, which decreases that by 5-10 decibels. The team says the diffuser is a double hitter because it diffuses sound and helps the planet.

“When they first tested it, it failed. It actually made the room louder,” Northrup said. “So they had to go back and look at procedures and solve the problem. It wasn’t a problem in a textbook, it was real.”

The other part of the competition is the robotics. The team must program a robot constructed from Legos to complete several tasks.

“We use Legos to make models to accomplish different missions for things that happen in real life,” Harrison Alexander, who joined the team because he was interested in programming, said. “We have to program the robot to pick something up. There is also a saving wild life portion where the robot has to push animals in a circle to get points.”

Alexander said he learned how to code when he was younger and the idea of programming robots made of Legos led him to apply for the team.

“It’s fun to see that something you did on a computer makes the robot do something in real life,” Alexander said.

The team won the regional tournament, with a combined score from its diffuser and robotics section, in order to qualify for the state tournament this weekend.

The students say they are ready to beat the competition and prove they are one of the best in the state.

For more information about the K-Cup sound diffuser visit the team’s blog for the step-by-step process at cannoncups.wordpress.com. For more information about First Lego League visit http://www.ncat.edu/academics/schools-colleges1/coe/News/FIRSTTechChallenge.html.



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