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Fox Chapel brothers who teach robot-building headed to LEGO world contest

Tawnya Panizzi
| Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, 8:33 p.m.
Arvind Seshan, 11, and Sanjay Seshan, 13, wear their signature Lego hats while showing their recent trophies at the Cooper Siegel Library in Fox Chapel.
Arvind Seshan, 11, and Sanjay Seshan, 13, wear their signature Lego hats while showing their recent trophies at the Cooper Siegel Library in Fox Chapel.

Students by day, inventors by night — brothers Arvind and Sanjay Seshan of Fox Chapel have catapulted a curiosity for building into an invitation to the prestigious FIRST LEGO League World Festival Tournament.

“We are excited to compete but even more excited to see our friends from around the world, who we usually only get to Skype with,” said Arvind, 11.

This will be the first time that a Pittsburgh team was chosen for the world festival since 2012.

The FIRST LEGO League World Festival will be April 27 to 30 in St. Louis.

The Olympic-style event will include 108 finalists from around the world, chosen from 29,000 teams in qualifying competitions.

FIRST LEGO League is a robotics-oriented science, technology, engineering and math program that operates in 80 countries. Participants compete in a theme-based challenge to design and program a LEGO robot, conduct a research study and find success through teamwork.

This year's World Tournament is themed “Trash Trek” and focuses on recycling.

The Fox Chapel brothers, homeschooled by their mother, Asha, will use their handmade LEGO robot to do a series of tasks. The robot will compost garbage, search a landfill and spill trash into a Dumpster, for example.

“We're proud to be able to represent Pittsburgh,” said Sanjay, 13, wearing a black-and-gold shirt with his team name, Not the Droids You Are Looking For.

The pair also will sport their trademark black top hats, accented with a LEGO baker, construction worker and other bright brick creations.

Sanjay and Arvind attended an international contest last year in Arkansas and took home the top prize.

They qualified for the world tournament after a victory at the FIRST LEGO League Western Pennsylvania Championship on Jan. 9 at La Roche College in McCandless.

The boys won first place among 73 teams in the Robot Game category. They also captured the First Place Champions title, given to the highest performing team across the contest's three categories.

They were nominated for the league's Global Innovation Award for their research project on battery recycling.

The top 20 teams will be chosen in April, and the winner will receive $20,000 and the chance to develop a prototype of a design.

Gordon T. Walton, tournament director for the Western Pennsylvania championships, said he believes Sanjay and Arvind have what it takes to build a successful future in the industry.

“They are a robotics tour de force, and we are lucky to have them representing Western Pennsylvania against the best competition that the world has to offer,” Walton said. “When it comes to bringing another world championship to the city of Pittsburgh, perhaps they actually are the droids that we are all looking for.”

Sanjay and Arvind commit at least 10 hours a week to tinkering, building and improving their robot. Winning is their goal, but they agree the bigger prize is inspiring novices to explore the world of robotics.

Susan Herald, head of the children's department at Cooper-Siegel Community Library in Fox Chapel, enlists the pair's help to host workshops on computer coding and LEGO-making.

“They are fantastic kids and we are lucky to have them doing programs and workshops for children and adults,” she said.

Sanjay and Arvind also started an educational website, EV3Lessons.com. They said more than 40,000 people from 120 countries have used the website to learn to program LEGO robots. Recently, they said, they mentored teams in Brazil and in several U.S. cities.

“When I see teams coming to thank the boys for their help, I think that's their success,” their mother said. “Winning is exciting but if they can get other children interested in science and help them overcome fears, that's the prize.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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