By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – The “Shooting Stars,” an all-girl Lego Robotics Team from Shrewsbury is aptly named. The sky is the limit for this team that came up with an award-winning idea for this year’s FIRST Lego League (FLL) season – bringing home the Project Presentation award at the Nov. 23 qualifier at Algonquin Regional High School and placing second in the Project Presentation category at the state competition in Newton Dec. 14.
Sherwood Middle School students Pradnya Cowlagi (grade 5) and Ravena Arun and Diya Shenoy (grade 6), along with friends from the Shrewsbury Montessori School, Nichelle Thinagar and Brooke Oyama (grade 5), created an innovative smart home solution for addressing senior citizen depression and mobility issues.
When asked what spurred the team’s interest in robotics, Nichelle replied, “Our brothers were doing robotics and then we liked it and we wanted to do it, so we formed a team.”
Team coach Sunitha Thinagar said that the team came together as a neighborhood robotics club.
Her co-coach, Ashish Cowlagi, shared that the team members were in elementary school at the time and there was no elementary school program.
The team is supported by mentors Nevin Thinagar (Nichelle’s brother), also in middle school, and Amit Shenoy (Diya’s brother), a sophomore at Shrewsbury High School.
Arathi Cowlagi, Pradnya’s mother, said that the team combined origami and virtual reality principles in their solution. This year’s theme was “Solve a problem that exists in a public space or in a building.”
“We wanted to do something where [senior citizens] could get exercise and they wouldn’t have to walk to the next room,” explained Pradnya. “So, like the [exercise] bench could come up from the floor. We had seen a bunch of other houses do this.”
She cited the “Tenfold House,” a modular home that can fold up in under 10 minutes at the push of a button, as inspiration for their idea.
“We talked to our grandparents and they all live in cities so we asked them what they would like or what would help them make tasks easier,” explained Nichelle.
Inspiration was also derived by Brooke’s late grandfather, having had mobility issues resulting in a fatal fall.
“We presented our idea like the foldable architecture and we ran it past social workers and architects and origamists,” Pradnya shared.
Thinagar stated that the team is already practicing and working on skills for next year.