Homeschoolers' Lego robot sorts candy

Chris Curtis, 11, of Palm Harbor, left, and Kristopher Scheuren, 10, of St. Pete Beach designed a Lego robot  that sorts out red Skittles. “We know there are people who are allergic to red dye,” Chris said.

Special to the Times

Chris Curtis, 11, of Palm Harbor, left, and Kristopher Scheuren, 10, of St. Pete Beach designed a Lego robot that sorts out red Skittles. “We know there are people who are allergic to red dye,” Chris said.

When Chris Curtis and Kristopher Scheuren met at a robotics class in January, it was clear they had a lot in common.

Both boys are homeschooled and in the fifth grade. They share the same first name, although it is spelled differently. They both love Legos and robots. And they were both looking for a partner for a local Robofest competition.

So Chris, 11, of Palm Harbor, and Kristopher, 10, of St. Pete Beach, decided to form Team CKRIS and build a robot for the Clearwater competition, which was held in March.

That robot, which sorts candy by color, won the competition and traveled last weekend to Southfield, Mich., with Team CKRIS and the boys' families to compete in the World Robofest 2010 Championships.

Team CKRIS did not place in the national competition, but both families said they were thrilled to have had the experience.

The idea to build a color-sorting robot from Legos came after lots of brainstorming by the boys and their robotics teacher, Emma Alaba, who owns the Computer Learning Center in Clearwater and teaches computer and robotics classes and camps.

"We wanted to build something that could help in the future, and we know there are people who are allergic to red dye," Chris said.

The robot moves objects along a conveyor belt through a color sensor. The red candy is separated from the other candy and deposited into a bin.

After trying several brands, the boys picked Skittles as the candy of choice for their device.

"Peanut M&Ms were too big and plain M&Ms were too small, but Skittles were the perfect choice," Kristopher said.

Chris' mom, Terri Curtis, 42, said Chris and his brother, Nathan, 8, have loved playing with Legos for as long as she can remember.

"Their room is like a Lego city," she said. "I can't run my vacuum without picking up a Lego."

In addition to being able to work with Legos, Kristopher said building their robot offered another significant benefit — they got to sample the product.

"We ate lots and lots and lots of Skittles," he said.

Chris said the competition has taught Team CKRIS some important lessons.

"I've learned not to give up," he said. "If you put your mind to it, you can get a lot accomplished in a short time."

While the families have had to pay for the robot, the team's fees to enter the competitions and travel expenses, several local civic groups and businesses donated money to defray their costs.

Homeschoolers' Lego robot sorts candy 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:00pm]

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