Essex High School senior wins national Lego competition

By

Carl Fung shows off “The Gauntlet,” a robot arm that can open door handles, lift an eight-pound weight and even pick up an egg. Fung’s build earned him the grand-prize in a national lego competition and an expense-paid trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he will present his creation at a convention at Lego World. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

An Essex High School senior won an expenses-paid trip to Denmark thanks to a unique helping hand.

Carl Fung learned last month he was the sole grand-prize winner of the Lego Rebrick Superbots contest, which called on Lego enthusiasts to construct a robot that helps its operator complete some task.

Named “The Gauntlet,” Fung’s creation is a four-fingered arm that wraps around his own hand. By pressing buttons situated within the chamber, Fung can grip onto objects of all different sizes. In a 30-second clip submitted to the competition, he used the arm to open a door, lift an eight-pound weight and even pick an egg out of a carton.

Fung said he built the arm before he knew about the contest — “just from fiddling around in school” — but figured it fit the prompt well enough.

Apparently, he was spot on: His creation was chosen out of 82 entries nationwide, earning him a trip to Lego World in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he will present The Gauntlet during a convention hosting thousands of people.

Lego also sent him a card and a custom mini-figure, one of only about 100 in existence, to commemorate his victory.

Launched in 2011, Rebrick is a Lego offshoot that hosts contests with the chance of winning prizes ranging from deluxe Lego sets to trips around the globe.

The win is the latest accolade in a long career of tinkering for the EHS senior, who said he began building with Legos a decade ago. After attending a few robotics clubs, Fung started to develop a sense of the mechanics and understand how motors can perform a variety of actions well beyond the interlock system of the original blocks.

At the high school last Thursday, Fung offered a glimpse into his creative process.

“I come up with these different ideas in my head of what I want the robot to look like, and just through tinkering with parts slowly, that idea comes into reality,” he said.

For The Gauntlet, Fung knew he wanted to trigger each finger with touch sensors. He started by creating a grip for the buttons, building each finger and covering the corresponding motors with a hand guard.

He then tweaked the hand through trial and error, including a run-in with what he called “the death grip,” where the thumb and forefinger tried to reach their maximum rotation levels when gripping onto an object.

That’s where the control module — what Fung calls “the brain” — comes into play. By programming presets into the module, Fung can alter how far each finger rotates depending on the type of object he was trying to pick up to maximize its usefulness.

As a member of the EHS Robotics Club, which has made trips to the super-regional events during his tenure, Fung has had a chance to experience both sides of the robot-building process.

He said he enjoys a collaborative, team environment, where the ideas of many are fused to create one product, though he admits a slight preference for solo building, where he can best express his own ideas.

Fung said he will likely attend the University of Vermont, where he hopes to continue his robotics education and maybe pursue mechanical engineering as well. For now, he’ll continue to expand upon his growing fleet.

“I have quite a bit of free time in school — I mean, I could be working on homework, but [robots are] a form of entertainment,” he said. “Plus, it’s a good way to exercise my brain.”