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Top of the heap

When it comes to new inventions intended to give people a head start on outrunning a natural disaster, St. Mary's School's Lego robotics team's smartphone app intended to warn users of incoming tsunamis is officially one of the best.

The Argonauts were awarded first place in the project research portion of the Oregon FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Lego Robotics competition, held over the weekend at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. The team's concept won against 120 or so other high schools from across Oregon.

"The judges were impressed, I would say," said team member Margaux Quady, 13.

The team's concept, iDry, is a smartphone app that would use GPS and wireless emergency alerts to warn users of incoming tsunamis. Team members said the app would be designed to also show users where family members are, along with evacuation routes and safe zones.

Team member Ethan McAnally, 12, said the team came up with the concept by thinking about a service or product many would likely use. In an age of tablets and smartphones, an app seemed like the most logical choice, he said.

"You're thinking about what people would use the most," Ethan said. "We figured it would probably be the best to choose our local area because there's a lot of coastline in Oregon."

In the days and weeks leading up to the regional and state competitions, the Argonauts developed their idea. They learned about Google Maps and how to best utilize it. They pulled together a mock television ad skit — complete with puppets — to advertise.

Team coach Catherine Dauterman said the team also performed well on the "core values" portion of the competition. During that time, teams are given an impromptu problem they must solve on the spot. Judges awarded the Argonauts high marks for robot design, too.

Team members said they had some struggles during the robotics "missions" portion. Lego robots built by students were tasked with completing those missions, all centered around a theme of natural disaster rescue and recovery.

"There were a lot of technical difficulties we hadn't expected," Margaux said, adding the team was able to make adjustments between rounds, which helped to improve their scores. "By the time our second trial came up on the board, we did much better than the first one."

As for iDry, some team members say they want to keep pursuing it as a project.

"I think it would be really cool if we could actually make it a reality," Ethan said.

There are programs available through FIRST to help take team ideas to market, but team heads said whether to utilize them is still up in the air. It will require commitment, but the team isn't ready to let go of its first-place idea yet.

"It would be something that would greatly help our community on the coastline," Margaux said. "We really want to keep going with this idea."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

Above: From left in front, Trine Parsons, Margaux Quady, Brody Bramscher and Ethan McAnally compete at Oregon FIRST. In the back, from left, are Kent Dauterman, Catherine Dauterman, Herb Quady and Adam Callaway. RIGHT: From left, Sean Milligan, Nick Johnson (holding the trophy), Gordon Dauterman, Brody Bramscher and Ethan McAnally celebrate their win at Oregon FIRST. - Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson