The puzzle of wires, sensors and Legos resembles a tiny tank with robotic arms, locked and ready for scooping.

The puzzle of wires, sensors and Legos resembles a tiny tank with robotic arms, locked and ready for scooping.

Trine Parsons, a 14-year-old St. Mary's School student, sets the device on a large table where scenes meant to depict disaster scenarios are set up: Lego people and pets waiting for rescue, a Lego ambulance that needs to be moved, a narrow airfield awaiting an emergency supply drop from a Lego plane.

Trine to the rescue. With a flick of a button, the small tank rumbles forward, navigating itself across the board in a pre-programmed route. It scoops up one of the imperiled survivors, hoists the tiny figure up and cruises the rest of the way across the chaos to a safe zone.

"This is one of the most challenging parts of the project," Trine says.

Like any project, practice makes perfect. St. Mary's FIRST Lego Robotics team, the Argonauts, is the only Rogue Valley team advancing to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) state competition this weekend at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. The top teams from that competition will head to the national stage.

Argonauts members say the competition is bigger than just playing with Legos.

"They have to really consciously think about what it means to work on a team, how to be good team members," said coach Catherine Dauterman. "How to support each other, work together, find solutions on their own."

The team was one of four selected from the Southern Oregon/Northern California region at the regional competition held last month. The other three qualifying teams are from Klamath Falls.

The state competition's theme, "Nature's Fury," will bring 120 teams from across the state. In addition to programming robots that run missions on the set-up boards, teams also have to present a concept for a practical project. The Argonauts' idea involves a smartphone app that would warn coast dwellers when a tsunami is rushing toward the shore. The team is calling it iDry.

"Basically it uses GPS to tell you where your family members are, and it also tells you where to go in the case of a tsunami, like where safe zones are," says 13-year-old Margaux Quady, adding the app would be tied into the same wireless emergency alert frequencies used by an AMBER Alert.

"We can tap into that, and it will send out a warning that says 'Tsunami on the Oregon Coast. Ten minutes to leave your town. Go to high ground.' Stuff like that."

The team also will have to make a go at a "core values challenge," during which members have to solve a random problem.

Team members say their interest in engineering and programming is bigger than just the team. Several members want to pursue those subjects as careers.

"Engineering is so much fun to me," says Nick Johnson, 13. "The fact that you created this, and you did all of this, and now it's in action. I find that to be very cool."

Margaux agrees.

"It would be really, really cool to do something that involves programming or building," she says. "I don't know what it would be, but I really like to do this, and it would be really cool to do later in life."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at