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Yukon All Sparks build their way to Canada Cup

John Tonin
Ethan Janes (right) and Johnathon Coyne show off the FIRST Lego League trophies they won at B.C. Qualifiers on Feb. 5 and B.C. Provincials on Feb. 11. (John Tonin/Yukon News)

John Tonin

Special to the News

The Yukon is going to be represented at the FIRST Lego League Canada Cup in Ontario. The All Sparks, featuring Ethan Janes, Johnathon Coyne, and mentor Kevin James, progressed that far by coming in fourth at the B.C. Qualifier and then third at B.C. Provincials.

FIRST Lego League (FLL) engages youth through STEM learning and exploration, from discovery, exploration, and then challenges.

At the beginning of an FLL season, a theme for the year is given — this year was Cargo Connect. Teams build a robot to complete challenges and also create an innovation project based on an issue related to the theme – transportation and delivery.

The All Sparks shined in all aspects of the competition, and their path to the Canada Cup was paved with accomplishments.

Tackling porch piracy

Janes and Coyne’s project centered around solving the problem of porch piracy – people stealing packages from doorsteps.

The All Sparks duo designed a device where the delivery person could safely put the package without the threat of porch piracy.

Janes and Coyne’s enlisted the expertise of engineers and consumers before presenting their final project.

For their efforts, the All Sparks’ project was the Innovation Project Award winner at the B.C. Qualifier. They got the same prize at the B.C. Championship as well as a Global Innovation Award nomination.

For Janes and Coyne, winning the innovation project came as a surprise.

“It’s amazing,” said Janes. “We were thinking, who’s it going to be? We never imaged it would be us. I thought our project was good but I didn’t think it was that good.”

“I was thinking our best thing was the robot game, not the project,” said Janes. “It’s pretty surprising that we got it.”

Although the All Sparks haven’t experienced porch piracy themselves, they said it is a large problem worldwide.

“We did some math about what the average parcel is worth and it’s well over a billion dollars worth of packages being porch pirated which is crazy,” said Janes.

In taking their project to the Canada Cup, the team wants to improve upon it further.

“I want to make a real one,” said Coyne.

“We also had the idea to test it out for a couple of weeks,” added Janes. “And we will probably talk to more users.”

Every great team needs a mentor

James helped see the All Sparks through their project and the building of the robot. For his guidance, Kevin earned the Mentorship Award.

“It was unexpected,” said James. “I didn’t realize I’d been nominated for it. I’ve enjoyed working with FIRST Lego League the last three seasons. So I really appreciate it from the community.”

Janes and Coyne said they both greatly appreciate Kevin as their mentor.

“I thought he was going to get it (Mentorship Award) for the first one (first time they went to provincials),” said Coyne. “He’s such a great mentor for us.

“He’s taught us so much like so many different tools and helped us with interviews and stuff like that.”

Janes and Coyne said without James, their project wouldn’t be what it was.

“I just helped them with contacts and suggestions,” said James, “but of course, the project has got to be done by these guys. There were times they struggled through but they gained the skills and the success from getting through that challenge.”

Time to talk Pumpkin

Pumpkin is the name of the All Sparks robot. The name was inspired after Janes and Coyne met at a FIRST Lego League camp and were partnered for choosing an orange coloured pen.

The pair, who had never met before, became close friends at the camp thanks to that orange pen. Pumpkin is an homage to their first meeting.

The duo both agree that they really enjoy programming and coding. They had programmed Pumpkin to complete 12 out of 17 missions that accompany a FIRST Lego League board.

With the Canada Cup on the horizon, Janes and Coyne said they’d like to conquer more of the boards’ missions.

“There’s a helicopter drop task that shouldn’t be too hard and we can accomplish without too much more programming,” said Janes.

“We asked the referees and they suggested that we do that mission and some other missions,” added Coyne.

To get Pumpkin Canada Cup ready, Janes and Coyne said they’ll need to do some more programming and probably build some new attachments.

The best 45

The Canada Cup features the best 45 teams in the country, so the All Sparks will be bringing their A-game.

“It’s going to be more fun because it will be more challenging for us,” said Coyne.

Janes said the team is feeling excitement and nervousness before competing at the Canada Cup, but they are up for the challenge.

“It will be pretty tough,” said Janes. “It’s also going to be really neat. There was a team that did really well at provincials and they are going to the Canada Cup so it will be interesting to see how they upgraded their bot.”

At the moment, the Canada Cup is going to be done remotely, but the team is hoping that will change.

“It will be interesting to meet the other teams from across the country,” said Coyne.

Interested in FIRST Lego League?

“If anybody else in the Yukon is interested in FIRST Lego League robotics then you are welcome to please reach out,” said James.