As a part of the 1st place grand prize international Google X PRIZE MoonBots Challenge winner, the Landroids was invited by the LEGO Group to visit the LEGO headquarter at Billund, Denmark. It was a fun-packed, 3-day, 3-night, a chance of the life time trip last week.

Thursday, September 24, 2010

We got out of school early on Wednesday afternoon, rushed to the airport. Our group of 10 consisted of 2 coaches, 5 MoonBots team members and 3 team parent/grandparents boarded the 10-hour flight from Newark Airport, through Frankfurt, Germany to Billund, Denmark. On the flight from Frankfurt to Billund, the airline had insisted that our precious Moonbots robot be checked in as a luggage. With a graceful toss of our carry on suitcase onto the cargo cart, we sweat through the agony of the robot being damaged. Good thing everything looked fine. With just 2 hours of rest followed the red-eye flight and 6 hours of time zone jump, the team was promptly picked up by the LEGO to tour the LEGO Idea Museum and learn about the origin and history of the company.

Started as a one-man wooden toy maker in the 1940’s, to an international success today, we learned about the LEGO history, and how it has gotten its name as “Leg Godt” which means “Play Well” and also means “I put together” in Latin. The Landroids were impressed by the LEGO company motto, “Only the best is good enough”. This attitude was repeatedly and subconsciously demonstrated throughout this trip by everyone from the LEGO Group. However, this motto was also surprisingly similar to Landroids’ team standards in terms of effort and deliverables. Although it was not in those exact words, it was more like “Did you do your best?”

The team browsed though the LEGO Museum, finding many childhood models that are no longer in production, which brought back much memories. Afterwards, with a short and pleasant walk, the Landroids were set free at a LEGO store with an expense paid shopping spree. We selected a new set of Mindstorm NXT to replace our three well-used Mindstorm bricks, and found gifts for our families. Afterwards, we were taken by the LEGO MINDSTORMS Community Manager and Moonbots promoter, Steven Canvin for dinner at an indoor Italian plaza complete with artificial blue sky year round. Steven has been our trip coordinator and liaison with LEGO, and was our guide and host for this trip, taken a lot of his personal time in the evenings and on the weekend to accompany us. Despite the really good (and very expensive food), soon, some of us started to doze off at the dinner table. Definitely appreciated the much needed ZZZ that night at Hotel Zleep.

Friday, September 25, 2010

This was the most exciting and nervous morning of all! The Landroids arrived at the LEGO headquarters at 9 AM with only 2 hours to set up the 7.5 ft x 7.5 ft Moonbots field and test the robot. The team got to meet and chat with the Mindstorms developers during this time regarding the programming and design process. All the while the robot was having problems even with the first mission, couldn’t calibrate the compass sensor to a brand new Moonscape in a different orientation. We had just enough time to do three quick on-the-spot program adjustments, since each LabView compilation took about 15 minutes each time. Promptly at 11 AM, the LEGO Group CEO, Mr. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp arrived to meet the team, and to watch the MoonBots robot run. Landroids’ lead programmer and robot designer, Karlin, calmly presented the robot design to a roomful of executives and the CEO, then put the robot down and let it ran through its full course. Many of us were holding our breaths and praying secretly. Luckily, the robot behaved quite well considering, picked up 50% of the loops but completed all other missions. When the CEO asked Karlin, what was the most stressful moment during the MoonBots season, Karlin replied “Now”, and got a roomful of laughter. The CEO gave each of the member a LEGO Space Shuttle model, plus bags of LEGO gadgets. More toys!

After lunch with the Mindstorms designers, the plant manager Steffen took us to visit the LEGO factories in Kornmarken and Åstvej. One factory was to produce the LEGO elements, the other one was to assemble and package the final product. All productions were automated, with each employee overseeing perhaps a dozen machines, which churn quietly 24/7, 364 days a year! We noticed that almost everything was recycled, reused, or reclaimed, with minimal waste. The level of precision and quality control were impressive! After the tour, we all had a newfound respect on how intricate and time consuming it was to assemble and print one LEGO figurine.

After the tour of the factory, our team went to the LEGOLand Hotel and LEGOLand for more “How it’s made?” behind-the-scene tour and some history on both facilities by the LEGOLand Event Manager, Claus. We went to the Atlantis Aquarium, walked on the dark catwalk above the Pirate Ship ride where visitors were on the boat below drifting down the river. Then we saw the maintenance yard and the landscape nursery. Everything was immaculate, which must have taken a tremendous amount to effort to keep it that way. Finally a stroll in the park to see all the LEGO models and sceneries. July is the peak season, and soon the LEGOLand will be closed for maintenance till next spring. That evening, our team had dinner at the LEGOLand restaurant which stayed opened for us and the LEGO Group. What a treat!

Saturday, September 26, 2010

It’s another beautiful day for a nice bus ride to Aarhus, which is the second largest city in Denmark. Our team met up with Steven and other LEGO families to go visit the World Robotics Olympiad finale at the Aarhus University. Walking through the city to the university campus, we couldn’t stop marvel at how pedestrian and bike friendly Denmark is. Everyone biked to everywhere, all road designs were with people and bike safety in mind. There were bikes everywhere, we could leisurely stroll through the city without worrying being run over by cars all the time. Even the cars are much smaller and energy efficient.

The WRO competition was held at the Lakeside Theater Lecture Hall at the University. Unlike the FIRST events, this was much quieter than expected. 15 high school teams were working intensively through rounds of competition, to see which robot was the fastest in climbing two separate poles and knocked down the ping-pong ball that was perched on each pole. We saw team Eriks Hold in person there. They had a 42 second 400 point Smart Move robot last FLL season, and again had a very promising pole climbing robot this time. The Landroids were happily roaming around as spectators with no pressure this time.

After a nice buffet lunch at a waterfront restaurant, we parted ways with the LEGO executive and their families. We just couldn’t believe how many man-hours and personnel it took to plan this trip and to give our team the VIP tours and treats everywhere. This was above a beyond what we had expected!

That afternoon, we roamed around Aarhus, visited many shops, mostly the candy stores and stocked up on chocolates. The team figured out how to “borrow” free bikes for 20 Danish Krones and decided to ride around the bus station while waiting for the return bus. That night, we ordered pizza in the hotel and tried to stuff all the gifts into our luggage. Once the coaches and parent chaperones were all asleep, there was a LEGO gun war in the room till 1 AM. Coach John pretended he was the hotel manager and knocked on the door, which promptly broke up the party and we all went to bed.

Sunday, September 27, 2010

Going home today, this trip seems long and yet it was too short. We used up all of our krones in the airport buying souvenirs. At Frankfurt Airport, with only ½ hour of transfer time and problem with back log at the custom gate, we had to make several mad dash back and forth in the long terminal and ran up and down the stairs.

Back at Newark Airport, all team parents showed up to pick us up! It was nice to be home; except for the mountain size of homework and make-up tests await us. Nevertheless, it was all worth it! Thank you, the LEGO Group and everyone from MoonBots for this amazing opportunity!