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FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award Semi-Finalists

August 2019

On June 3, FIRST LEGO League announced 20 semi-finalist teams that would advance to the Ninth Annual FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award. We are proud to share that the Central Park Elementary School team, Cats Love Mars, was one of the teams selected from entries from more than 30 countries. 

Cats Love Mars invented the Combustion Artificial Intelligence Thermal Imaging Safety System (C.A.T.S.S.) for the INTO ORBIT challenge, proposing solutions to problems humans face during long-duration space exploration. Their innovative project demonstrated originality while having the potential to add significant value to the world. 

The Cats Love Mars team is made up of four girls who met at Central Park Elementary during its opening year in 2016. Initially, the team spent most of their FIRST LEGO League season building a burrito machine for astronauts. However, in November when the deadly fires broke out in Paradise, California, the girls took their project in an entirely different direction. After watching a NASA TV live chat about heat shielding, the girls wondered if NASA's heat shielding technology could have been used to save people and their homes in Paradise. They learned from the news that the fires started from sparks on the electrical lines and were curious to know if those sparks could have been detected ahead of time to warn people before the fire broke out.

Their curiosity led them to research about fires, fire safety, thermal imaging, and machine learning. The team pooled their knowledge about thermal imaging that they had learned at a Maker Faire with what they knew about machine learning from an afterschool workshop and got creative to combine these technologies in a way that NASA had not tried for fire safety.

The Central Park Elementary philosophy is to inspire students by developing empathy with others and feeling empowered to make the world a better place,” says parent Tesin Dosch.

With a strong sense of empathy and urgency to save lives, the team discarded their burrito robot project mid-season and developed C.A.T.S.S. They followed the design thinking process to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test their ideas iteratively. Teacher Jennifer Zeitler sponsored their project in Exploravision where they were runner-ups and the girls also demonstrated their project at SCUSD's 1st Annual STEAM Expo.

The team presented their project to expert judges in San Jose on June 30-July 2 when they participated in a two-day, hands-on innovation event. Unfortunately, Cats Love Mars did not win 1st place — the award went to a team of middle/high school kids from Brazil. However, that’s not where the story ends because the team’s project sparked interest from Booz Allen Hamilton’s Innovation Strategist who is coordinating a presentation to their International Space Station Team.

As one of the Top 20 teams in the world, the girls were inducted as FIRST Global Innovation Ambassadors to promote STEM in their community. In recognition of being the first team from Santa Clara to ever to make the Global Innovation Award, the Santa Clara City Mayor asked the team to present at Santa Clara City Hall on August 20. 


We are very proud of our curious, creative, and inspired Central Park chameleons — congratulations!


Learn more about the FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Awards on their website.