Three young Lego lovers won a provincial robot challenge this week and are preparing to compete at an international competition in Toronto this summer.

Jonah McKay, 12, handled most of the programming, while twin brothers Eamonn and Macky Schwartz, both 14, built the Lego robot.

Collectively, the Canning, N.S., boys are known as The Flying Manatees FIRST Lego League Robotics Team. Along with coach Ian McKay, the team spent five hours a week over six months engineering and building the robot from scratch. 

'We always planned for failure.' - Jonah McKay

The competition saw their robot rescuing Lego cats, dogs and people from natural disasters. The Manatee won the provincial championship at Acadia University on Saturday.

Macky Schwartz said their robot is longer than the typical “boxy” model and has an arm to pick things up. It also has a basket to carry things, bumpers to move things and ultrasonic light sensors.

“We send it out, it picks things up and brings it back to base,” he said.

McKay said the experience was amazing. “It encourages creativity, team building, respect for others and just having fun” he said. “It’s really fun. We’ve learned a lot about engineering and how to program. It’s quite interesting.”

Eamon Schwartz said the ultrasonic light sensors let the robot sense lines and turn to stay in bounds, or detect obstacles and avoid them — or ram them, if needed. “It’s amazing,” he said.

He said the best part was “making the different attachments and figuring out how we could solve the missions.”

At the competition, the Lego robots had to work in Lego natural disasters, lifting houses to save the Lego residents and pets.

McKay said they did badly in the first round and had to modify it on the fly in between rounds.  

"It was already pretty good,” he said, and the tweaks took them to the top. “We always planned for failure.”

The team has a Facebook fan page and a fundraising page to help them get to Toronto. The Royal Robots from Annapolis Royal Regional Academy also won and will be going to the international competition in June. 

Other Nova Scotia winners include:

  • FLL championship First Place – Royal Robots from Annapolis Royal Regional Academy
  • Robot Performance Award 1st Place – Flying Manatees from Ross Creek Centre for the Arts
  • Mechanical Design Award 1st Place – Top Robots from Truro Jr. High
  • Programming Award 1st Place – Robo Lobo Wired from Wolfville School
  • Strategy and Innovation Award 1st Place – TEAM from Eastern Passage Education Centre
  • Project Presentation Award 1st Place – Trurobotics from Truro (Independent Group)
  • Project Innovative Solution Award 1st Place – Flying Manatees from Ross Creek Centre for the Arts
  • Project Research Award 1st Place – Rockin’ Robotics from NS Community Access Program
  • Core Values Teamwork Award 1st Place – Gorsebrook Bears from Gorsebrook Jr. High
  • Core Values Inspiration Award 1st Place – TMS Legettes from Trenton Middle School
  • Gracious Professionalism Award 1st Place – Les Jeune Cougars from Ecole secondaire du Sommet
  • Judges’ Award (Special Recognition) – Lego Roboto from Pictou Landing First Nation Elementary
  • Judges’ Award (Against All Odds) – Salami Slices from Dwight Ross and Middleton Regional High
  • Judges’ Award (Young Adult Coach/Mentor) – Bry-Enna Surette-Robar from Les Viperes