Hey Now, You’re An Allspark!

The Yukon Allsparks, the territory’s robotics team, is heading down to the world championships in California.

To say the Yukon Allsparks have been on a roll is an understatement. After coming away from the B.C. provincial FIRST Lego League Challenge, they will be heading down to California to compete at an international level. From tens of thousands of teams, around 100 have been invited to the global Western Edge FIRST Lego League Open, which will involve three days of competition with teams from all over the world, in Long Beach, California.

The Yukon Allsparks is made up of Johnathon Coyne and Ethan Janes, who are in grades nine and seven, respectively. Coyne and Janes met at a Lego robotics camp put on by Robotics North Society, where they enjoyed themselves and learned so much that they decided to start a team, afterwards, after being assigned to each other as random partners. They have been competing as the Yukon Allsparks since 2019, for four seasons.

“They randomly assigned partners for the camp,” said Coyne. “There were twenty other partners we could have gotten assigned to.”

Before COVID, the Yukon Allsparks had more team members, but Coyne and Janes were able to continue working together as a social bubble during lockdowns. Since Coyne is at the age to move into the next division of FIRST robotics, Janes and his father, Kevin, who is a coach of the Allsparks, hope to recruit some more team members in the future.

“I really enjoy coding and watching robots go,” said Janes. “I like designing the mechanical aspects.”

Both Coyne and Janes feel the championships in California are creeping up on them, and they share a mix of excitement and nerves.

“I’m pretty excited to go down to the States,” said Coyne. “It’s my first time going down to the States, not counting Alaska.”

Jumping in, Janes added, “This is the world level; we’re competing against international teams. It feels kind of weird being a Yukon team.”

Coyne said, as far as goals go, he wants to have fun, meet new people and learn about other robotics initiatives that might benefit other parts of the world, with issues that could be solved by robotics he hadn’t previously considered.

This is the first time that a FIRST Lego League team from the Yukon has made it down to the world championships, so the Allsparks feel proud to represent the territory on this global stage, for the first time, and are looking forward to being ambassadors of the North.

At the championships, the chosen teams will be competing against one another with Lego-based robotics missions designed by the teams to solve an issue, with robots built to do so. This year’s theme is energy, which can include generation, transmission, as well as use and storage of energy, Janes’ father Kevin explained.
“Each team will have an innovation project, which is like a research project, but they have to come up with a solution to the problem they’ve researched, or improve an existing solution,” he said.

The Allsparks project is centered around improving solar panels, as the team members explained, something that would definitely benefit the Yukon and beyond.

“Usually, when you have a solar panel in the Yukon, there’s snow that goes onto it, and it really doesn’t work so well in the winter,” said Coyne. “Our idea is to remove different types of debris—it doesn’t have to be snow; it can also be leaves and other types of debris—so, it’s like a windshield wiper that goes up and down to clear the debris off a solar panel. We would have a system that dispenses water onto it, as well, and this would all be controlled via an app on your cell phone.”

Originally, the concept was to help solar panels operate at their maximum potential in the Yukon. The idea started with clearing snow, but the Allsparks quickly realized the system could help in other parts of the world that don’t see much snow but have leaves, sand and other types of debris affecting their solar panels.

To be represented on a global stage can serve as an opportunity to show people from other parts of the world that the Yukon isn’t just a rural little place next to Alaska, but also a hub of innovation and creativity.

“It gives some exposure to what the Yukon is and all the beauty and the cool tourist destinations here,” said Coyne. “It doesn’t matter how small your place is; if you try your hardest, you can go on to an international level.”

An aspect of the tournament the Allsparks are looking forward to is an “On the Spot” segment where teams will be presented with missions that nobody has seen before and where they have to put their heads together to create a solution, with Lego robotics, within a 10-hour span.

“All the things we’ve worked on up until now, we’ve had months to prepare and get ready for and practice and research,” said Janes. “But the ‘On the Spot’ is gonna be a mad scramble for a couple of hours.”

The Western Edge FIRST Lego League Open championship takes place May 12–14. Though they are going to compete, Coyne and Janes are excited for the educational opportunities they’ll get from seeing what other teams, from other parts of the world, have come up with, and maybe even find some ideas to take back to the Yukon for their own future projects.

“Things that first come to mind with us, when we think about problems with energy, might be completely different halfway across the world,” said Janes.

Through the rest of their schooling in the Yukon and afterwards, the Allsparks hope to continue their work with innovation in robotics. The team has received lots of support from the Yukon’s business community, to attend, and appreciates the support.

“There’s gonna be hundreds of people there,” said Janes. “It’s gonna be really exciting.”
For more information on the Western Edge FIRST Lego League Championships, visit cafirst.org/westernedge.

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