TWIN FALLS • It’s called an air shield and it’s designed to keep air pollutants out of your home. Sound fancy? It was designed and created by five members of a local robotics team named “Stars & Stripes.” Team members range from 9 to 13 years old.

Want to see how the air shield works and compares to projects from 48 teams across southern Idaho? The state tournament will be at the College of Southern Idaho next weekend.

More than 200 students will descend on Twin Falls to compete in the Idaho FIRST LEGO League Tournament Jan. 25 at the College of Southern Idaho gymnasium.

The all-day event is free and open to the public. Greg Greer, Stars & Stripes coach, said the morning will consist of project judging, while the afternoon will be all competition.

This year's FIRST LEGO League (FLL) features the "Nature’s Fury" challenge, where teams of kids between 9 and 14 years old research and present their own creative solutions to natural disasters. Teams will build, test and program robots to solve a set of natural disaster missions, such as positioning an evacuation sign, clearing an airplane's runway of debris and delivering supplies.

The Stars & Stripes’ air shield was designed to be used during forest fires to keep out smoke and ash. Greer said another idea the group almost pursued was using GPS tags for pets and personal items so they could be tracked later if a family was forced out of their home by a natural disaster.

In its 16th year, FIRST LEGO League anticipates its largest season ever, with approximately 23,000 teams in more than 80 countries competing in hundreds of qualifying tournaments and championship tournaments.

Suzann Dolecheck, 4-H extension educator, said two years ago there was only one state tournament in Moscow. Last year, another state tournament in Twin Falls was added to accommodate the large number of participants.

Dolecheck expects 45 teams of up to ten members to compete. There are seven local teams who will also be competing. 

Dolecheck said robotics is so popular in Southern Idaho that the extension’s upcoming introduction to robotics class has already been filled. To keep up with the interest, Dolecheck said they are looking into incorporating robotics into their summer programs.

Greer said since Stars & Stripes started four years ago, there has been an increase in local participants.

The first year, Greer said less than 10 children competed locally. This year, Greer said there are more than 40 participants.

If you are a leader of a youth-based program, such as Boys and Girls Club, and are interested in learning more about starting a robotics team, Dolecheck said VIP tours are available during the tournament by contacting her at 208-734-9590.

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