Energy of the future: Young research team from Kronach wins Ilmenau robotics competition

The RoboFreaks team from Frankenwald-Gymnasium in Kronach has won the 2023 regional competition of the FIRST® LEGO® League Challenge at TU Ilmenau. As one of eight teams and a total of 80 boys and girls aged nine to 16, they competed in the research and robotics competition at the end of January. Together, the young people researched and developed creative ideas and solutions on the topic of "SUPERPOWERED - Energy of the Future" and programmed fully automated robots. In doing so, they demonstrated their young researcher qualities in front of a jury and have thus qualified for the next round of the competition on February 26 in Siegen.

Junge Leute stehen m einen Tisch mit Lego-Fahrzeugen. TU Ilmenau/Dino Junski
The RoboFreaks from Kronach won the First LEGO League Competition 2023 at the TU Ilmenau.

Every computer, every household appliance and every smartphone needs electrical energy. But where does all the energy come from to operate and charge the many devices? Today, there are already many possibilities and technologies for converting the forces of nature into usable energy. But there are still many challenges to overcome in energy technology: How is energy distributed and stored as efficiently, safely and economically as possible? How can people, nature and the environment be protected in the best possible way? And will we be able to generate energy in such a sustainable way in the future that there will be enough energy available for daily consumption? The students from Jena, Ilmenau, Sonneberg, Kronach, Zella-Mehlis and Oberweißbach who took part in this year's LEGO competition at the TU Ilmenau dealt with all these questions, supervised by an experienced coach.

Since August 2022, they had been researching a self-selected energy topic - in some cases until late into the night, before competing against each other in the TU Ilmenau Audimax: "In the process, they not only deal with highly topical social issues and practice hard skills such as programming, but they also learn soft skills such as time management," Jenny Gramsch from the TU Ilmenau's Student Research Center, who coordinates the competition at TU Ilmenau, explains:

In this way, we want to make it easier for them to access scientific topics and motivate them at an early stage to participate in fundamental scientific and technical topics with social relevance, such as climate change, energy requirements, etc., by choosing an engineering or IT profession.

On January 28, they competed in four categories in the exciting atmosphere of a sports event: "3, 2, 1, LEGO!" was the motto of the "Robot Game," in which the teams went on an "energy journey" with their LEGO robots. On a playing field measuring around four square meters, their self-programmed machines had to autonomously complete up to 15 tasks within two and a half minutes, as error-free as possible, in order to score points. With their modularly designed robots and 540 points, the RoboFreaks from Kronach came out on top in the end. "The tasks are similar every year: most of the time, the robots have to transport, release or catch something," Jenny Gramsch explains: "Things don't always work out the way they do at home, but that can be made up for in the next round. The advantage is that only the best score of the three rounds is included in the scoring."

From energy from plants to smart grids

In the "Research" category, the task was to convince the jury with creative scientific solutions on a self-selected energy topic and a presentation of the research results. The research topics ranged from energy from plants to the use of superabsorbers as electricity savers for drying laundry to intelligent power grids, so-called smart grids. The winners here were the Gameshakers from the Staatliche Regelschule "Friedrich Fröbel" in Oberweißbach, who had designed a competition with gamification elements to motivate other students and adults to save energy. The trophy for the best "robot design" went to the GGI R2D2 team from the Goetheschule Ilmenau, which had constructed particularly innovative robots using LEGO technology and programmed them with Python. Team ORCHIboter from Ilmenau was awarded a prize in the "Basic Values" category for its special team performance.

Cup for particularly motivating and committed coaching for the first time

For in addition to the technical component, University President Prof. Kai-Uwe Sattler said in his welcome to the participants, there is another aspect of the Challenge that is just as important: "You face a competition, compare yourselves with others, and even if only one team can win in the end, you take something with you - at least the goal of participating again next time and perhaps being even better."

You've invested a lot of time over the past weeks and months, tinkering, trying out new ideas, and certainly suffering setbacks. That's exactly what makes researchers, too. And after all, it's a team competition: You learn how important it is to be a team player, to rely on others, to make the right use of others' strengths and to know that the others rely on you, too.

The jury was also impressed by this team spirit and for the first time awarded a trophy for particularly committed and motivating "coaching" to Dr. Sara Werner from the ORCHIbots. The overall winner and "champion" this year, as in 2022, was the RoboFreaks team from Kronach: "You all went on a wonderful energy journey with us and came up with very creative research ideas with which you surprised us and made us think," Carsten Gatermann from Ingenieure ohne Grenzen e.V. said in his laudatory speech.

About the FIRST® LEGO® League Challenge

The competition is an initiative of the non-profit association HANDS on TECHNOLOGY e.V., which promotes children and young people in the field of STEM (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, technology) with the educational programs FIRST LEGO League Explore and Challenge. Together with the organizing organizations such as the TU Ilmenau, the mission of the association is not only to teach technical skills, but also to enable children and young people to use technology in a meaningful way, to think for themselves, to communicate ideas and to live a good life together.

In 2023, for the second time, the TU Ilmenau was one of more than 70 venues in Germany, Austria and Switzerland for the regional competitions of the FIRST® LEGO® League under the patronage of Volker Rusch, Chairman of the Committee for Schools, Culture and Sports of the Ilm District. The competition was supported organizationally by CSI Ilmenau and the Förderverein der Wirtschaftsjunioren Thüringer Wald e. V. and was financially supported by:

  • Avery Dennison Gotha
  • Henkel & Roth Ilmenau
  • Initiative Erfurter Kreuz e.V.
  • plano solutions gmbh Ilmenau
  • Rewe Digital Cologne/Ilmenau
  • Savings Bank Arnstadt/Ilmenau

More about Energy Research

The research and development of processes related to energy as well as the corresponding marketing of research results in cooperation with industrial companies and associations is also the focus of the Thuringian Energy Research Institute ThEFI at the TU Ilmenau, in short ThEFI. It unites 13 departments from 4 departments of the TU Ilmenau in the sense of interdisciplinary research. The focus is on knowledge transfer and the further development of research competence in all areas of environmental and systems engineering, both in-house and with scientific partners.


Jenny Gramsch

Student Research Center at TU Ilmenau