FIRST LEGO League Challenge
Current season, competition or edition:
Current sports event SUPERPOWERED (2022-2023)
FLL Challenge Logo v2.svg
SportRobotics-related games
FounderDean Kamen
PresidentLawrence Cohen
Motto"More Than Robots"
No. of teams35,140 (2018-2019)
Venue(s)Houston, Texas
Detroit, Michigan
QualificationState or National Competition in respective country/state.
FIRST Robotics Competition
FIRST Tech Challenge
FIRST Lego League Explore

The FIRST LEGO League Challenge (formerly known as FIRST LEGO League) is an international competition[1] organized by FIRST for elementary and middle school students (ages 9–14 in the United States and Canada, 9–16 elsewhere).[1]

Each year in August,[2] FIRST LEGO League Challenge teams are introduced to a scientific and real-world challenge for teams to focus and research on.[3] The robotics part of the competition involves designing and programming Lego Education robots[4] to complete tasks. The students work out a solution to a problem related to the theme (changes every year) and then meet for regional, national and international tournaments to compete, share their knowledge, compare ideas, and display their robots.

The FIRST LEGO League Challenge is a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO Group. It is the third division of FIRST LEGO League, following FIRST LEGO League Discover for ages 4-6, and FIRST Lego League Explore for ages 6-10.[5]

Competition details

At the beginning of the competition season, FIRST sends a set of official competition materials to each registered team, consisting of a 'challenge mat', LEGO electronic and mechanical components, and instructions for building the items for the mat (collectively known as the Challenge Set, formerly the Field Setup Kit). The teams also receive a list of tasks, called 'missions', to complete involving each model on the mat (e.g. taking a loose piece from one model and placing it inside another). The FIRST LEGO League Challenge gives teams complete freedom on how to complete the missions, providing that they are completed by a programmed LEGO Education robot with no outside assistance. The robot has two and a half minutes to complete the missions; called the Robot Game. Each team has a minimum build period of 8 weeks to analyze the challenge mat, design and build a LEGO Education robot, and program it to fulfill the given missions in any manner they see fit. The robot must be autonomous,[6] and may contain only one LEGO Education programmable block and no more than 4 motors.

In addition to the live robot run, or Robot Game, the competition has three additional judged sections with the purpose of providing teams with feedback on their achievement of the FIRST LEGO League Challenge learning objectives. The first judging session, Core Values,[2] is designed to determine how the team works together and uses the FIRST LEGO League Core Values in everything they do, which include inspiration, teamwork, Gracious Professionalism, and Coopertition. In addition to discussing how their team exhibits these values, teams may also be asked to perform a teamwork activity, usually timed, to see how the team works together to solve a new problem. Secondly, in the Robot Design, or technical judging,[2] the team demonstrates the mechanical design, programming, and strategy/innovation of their robot. The goal of this judging session is to see what the robot “should” do during the Robot Game. Thirdly, in the Project,[2] the students must give a 5-minute presentation on research of a topic related to the current challenge. The required steps of the project as teams to first identify a problem that is related to the topic of that year's competition, then create an innovative solution to their identified problem by modifying something that already exists or creating something completely new (an "innovative solution"), and then they must share that solution with others, such as real world professionals who have expertise in the annual challenge theme.[7]

Table performance

Team members set up their autonomous built for the 2017 Hydro Dynamics playing field.
Team members set up their autonomous built for the 2017 Hydro Dynamics playing field.

When the official competition convenes, each team brings their robot to compete on an official challenge mat identical to their own. Two members of the team are allowed at the board during a match; however, they can switch out with others in the team. In the case of a serious problem, such as the entire robot breaking down, the entire team is allowed at the board for as long as the problem persists. Members are not permitted to bring additional robots, or any other items to the board during competition.

The robot starts in an area marked as 'base', a white area in the corner or to one side of the table. In base, two team members are allowed to touch the robot and start programs. If the team touches the robot while it is outside of base (an 'interruption'), the referee will issue a penalty, resulting in the removal of a Precision Token. These are stationary LEGO models that increase the final score if they remain until the end, providing an incentive to not interrupt the robot. The robot is not required to return to base; some teams have completed all their missions without returning to base during the time allowed to complete the missions. In fact, in the 2008–09,[8] 2009-10,[9] 2011-13 and 2021 challenges, points were awarded if the robot was in one of two specified areas, not including base, at the end of the two and a half minute match.

Parts and Robotic platforms

Participants build robots with kits such as these.
Participants build robots with kits such as these.

FIRST LEGO League Challenge teams may use "any LEGO-made building parts in their original factory condition[10]" to construct their robots. The robots are programmed using any language allowing autonomous movement. Many teams opt for a block-based programming environment such as the official EV3 software, the official NXT-G software (now outdated), or Robolab. All these are built around Labview.

The robots used are Lego Education units. Until 2021, the platform of choice was the Lego Mindstorm EV3. While the EV3 will still be permitted in FLL competitions, starting in August 2022, the Guided Mission will only be available for SPIKE Prime.


Teams in different parts of the world have different times allotted to complete the construction of the robot, due to the varying date of qualifying tournaments but must have a minimum of 8 weeks from "Global Challenge Release" (the date, usually in August, by which the details of the missions and research project become available to the public). They go on to compete in FIRST LEGO League Challenge tournaments, similar to the FIRST Robotics Competition regionals. The initial levels of competition are managed by an Affiliate Partner Organization (commonly affiliated Universities), who are led by an Affiliate or Operational Partner Representative ("The Partner"). The Partner has complete control over all official tournaments in their region. Region boundaries are set by FIRST. Some States represent an entire region while others, like Central Florida, represent a mix of Counties within the State.[11] Most Partners have a two-tier system; teams first go to a "Qualifier" and if they meet certain criteria and perform well in all 3 judged areas, they can receive a bid to advance to the next level of competition, which is most often a Regional-Level event. Certain territories have 3-tiers and may also employ a State Championship.[12]

The largest single-day regional qualifying tournament is hosted by First State Robotics and First State FIRST LEGO League in Wilmington, Delaware. Taking place every January, this event holds FIRST LEGO League Explore, FIRST LEGO League Challenge, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition, and robot sumo competitions under one roof at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center. Teams from Eastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland (among other regions) attend this tournament to make it the largest single-day FIRST event in the world.[13]

FIRST Championship

The only competition run by FIRST is the FIRST Championship[14] In 2007, 96 teams competed in the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in Atlanta, Georgia on April 27–30.[15] The 2007–08 Power Puzzle FIRST LEGO League World Festival and the 2008–09 FIRST LEGO League World Festival on Climate Connections were held again in the Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center. Starting with the 2010–11, FIRST LEGO League World Festival is held at the Edward Jones Dome and America's Center in St. Louis. In 2016, FIRST announced that they were expanding the FIRST Championship to two back-to-back events. Through 2020, these events will be held first in Houston, Texas at the George R. Brown Convention Center and the following week in Detroit, Michigan at the Cobo Center.[16][17]

Additionally, top performing teams from the highest level of regional/state competition, may be nominated to participate in one of the Open Championships (also called "Invitationals") which are organized by FIRST LEGO League Challenge Partners.

Trophies made of LEGO blocks for FIRST LEGO League 2005 regional winners.
Trophies made of LEGO blocks for FIRST LEGO League 2005 regional winners.

With the exception of Local Awards (a special recognition designed by that region's Partner), the Rookie Award, which recognizes a team for which this is their first year competing, and displayed extraordinary achievements, the Judges Award, which recognizes a team which displays much achievement, but did not qualify for any typical award, and the Robot Performance Award, which recognizes the team with the single highest numeric robot performance score at that particular event, teams are only allowed to win one award at any particular event.[18]

Global Innovation Award

Officially registered teams can also be nominated by their region for the Global Innovation Award, where they could win a grant to make their innovative solution to the annual challenge theme's problem a reality.[19] As of the Animal Allies Season, the First Place team wins $20,000 and two other Finalists each win $5,000. The money can be used to further the team's ideas or to continue in FIRST programs. All three finalist teams also receive a LEGO Mindstorms Education EV3 Robot Set. All submissions are reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of experts from engineering and industrial fields as well as experts in the challenge theme for that year. Teams are judged on problem identification, innovation, implementation, and effective use of STEM principles. From all of the teams nominated by every FIRST LEGO League Challenge region, twenty teams are selected as semi-finalists and are invited to attend the Global Innovation Award Celebration in San Jose[20] (formerly in Washington, D.C.) At this event the teams present to a panel of judges, and the first place and other finalist teams winning the cash prizes are announced.[21]


The challenges for the FIRST LEGO League Challenge are annually themed based on a real world problem:

Year Theme Number of Participants Number of Teams[22] Number of Events Summary of Challenge Theme[23]
1999-2000 FIRST Contact[24] 9,500 960 It focused around a group of astronauts stranded in a space station; missions included pulling a lever to allow the astronauts into a chamber and delivering oxygen (foam balls) to different sections of the playing field.
2000-2001 Volcanic Panic[25] 15,000 1,540 In this challenge, robots had to complete challenges prior to the eruption of a volcano,[26] such as rescuing a stranded scientist, barricading a village from lava rocks, deploying a gas sensor, and retrieving crates of samples, among other volcano-related tasks.
2001-2002 Arctic Impact[27] 18,500 1,902 Robots had to complete tasks on an Arctic themed board such as retrieving medicine barrels, and rescuing minifigure scientists from polar bears.
2002-2003 City Sights 27,009 3,001 Robots completed tasks such as clearing rocks off a soccer field, harvesting and delivering food loops, collecting toxic barrels, activating a windmill, and other city-related tasks.[28]
2003-2004 Mission Mars 42,000 4,331 Inspired by the year's Mars Rover mission, competing teams had to design and construct robots to solve a number of problems like removing rocks from a 'solar panel' to ensure a Mars base energy supply, collect 'soil/rock samples' from the Martian desert landscape, etc.
2004-2005 No Limits 50,000 5,859 Centered around various robotic assistant systems for disabled persons, robots demonstrate how the systems are (hopefully) able to solve the given problems in a satisfying way.[29]
2005-2006 Ocean Odyssey 75,000+[30] 7,501[30] 366[30] Involved marine-themed tasks such as mapping a sunken ship, deploying a research submarine, and cleaning up a shipping spill.
2006-2007 Nano Quest 88,000+[31] 8,847[31] 454[31] The challenge is developing anything using nanotechnology[32] that improves or makes life easier from medicine to computers to the environment.
2007-2008 Power Puzzle 100,000+[33] 10,941[33] The challenge is on alternative energy and features tasks such as moving power lines, fuel sources and planting trees.
2008-2009 Climate Connections 137,000+[34] 13,705[34] 542+[34] The challenge focuses on the Earth's past, present, and future climate. Students must research a climate problem occurring in their area, find a solution, then share it. They also have to research another area which has the same problem as their area. Featured moving balls, bicycles, computers, setting up levees, etc.[35][36]
2009-2010 Smart Move[37] 147,000+[38] 14,725[38] 542+[38] The challenge centers around efficient transportation[39] and teams are to solve a particular problem with the mode of transportation that they have chosen. The robot game includes activating access markers, collecting loops, toggling a lever to move a truck, avoid warning beacons, parking at one of two specified locations, etc.
2010-2011 Body Forward[40] 16,720[41] 643+[41] Explore the cutting-edge world of biomedical engineering to discover innovative ways to repair injuries, overcome genetic predispositions, and maximize the body's potential, with the intended purpose of leading happier and healthier lives. The robot game includes moving bionic eyes to the upper body, separating red and white blood cells, opening a door, and more.
2011-2012 Food Factor 183,000 (est.)[42] 18,323[42] 651[42] Improving the quality of food by finding ways to prevent food contamination.[43] The missions include removing bacteria, delivering food, and refrigeration.
2012-2013 Senior Solutions 204,000 (est.)[44] 20,430[45] 1,022[44] Improve and maintain the quality of life of senior citizens
2013-2014 Nature's Fury[46] 237,000 (est.)[47] 23,748[47] 1,130[47] Explore the awe-inspiring storms, quakes, waves and more that we call natural disasters. Teams will discover what can be done when intense natural events meet the places people live, work, and play.
2014-2015 World Class[48] 21,000 (est.)[49] 26,044[49] 1,274[49] Redesign how we gather knowledge and skills in the 21st century. This includes learning any kind of skill at any age.
2015-2016 Trash Trek[50] 232,000 (est.)[51] 29,034[51] 1,407[51] Make less trash or improve the way people handle the trash we make
2016-2017 Animal Allies[52] 248,000 (est.)[53] 31,079[53] 1,407[53] It's all about helping our furry, feathered, and finned friends. Improve the way that people and animals interact. What might become possible when we learn to help each other?
2017-2018 Hydro Dynamics[54] 280,000 (est.)[55] 35,033[55] 1,423[55] On your mark, get set, flow! Learn all about water – how we find, transport, use, or dispose of it. This year's challenge focuses on missions related to water, such as deploying a water pump, and turning a faucet.[56]
2018-2019 Into Orbit[57] 281,120[58] 35,140[58] 1,531[58] The 2018/2019 FIRST® LEGO® League season will transport your team into space, where you'll explore, challenge, and innovate in the vast expanse of space.
2019-2020 City Shaper[59] 318,000 38,609[60] City Shaper focused on cities, and missions involved things such as putting a bat on a tree, resolving a traffic jam, and causing a wheelchair swing to swing.

This was a unique year as competition rules changed, a “home area” was created and for the first time contestants were asked to stop on the map, or the bridge on the map in this case. This allowed for two tables to have what was called “A battle for the bridge.” Robots that only went up the bridge on one table were rewarded the points associated with the bridge. If both robots went up the bridge, points were awarded to the robot who was positioned higher up on the bridge.

2020-2021 RePlay 120,144[61] This was a hybrid competition that focused on health and sports. Missions involved things such as pushing a minifigure down a slide. This was the first season to use LEGO Education SPIKE Prime parts.
2021-2022 Cargo Connect This competition focuses on cargo transport. Missions include taking cargo from a cargo plane and dropping crates from a helicopter.
2022-2023 SUPERPOWERED Teams will explore where energy comes from, and how it is distributed, stored, and used.

See also


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