Legos, traditionally, are toys for erecting castles and crafting little figurines. Rithik “Ricky” Kundu uses the plastic building blocks to construct mobile robots — and shares his passion with boys living in an Indian orphanage.
The group of young boys resides at the Antyodoy Anath Ashram, about four hours west of Kolkata. Kundu and his family have supported the orphanage as long as he can remember.
Kundu, a 16-year-old student at Concord Academy in Lexington, began his lessons with a two-day intensive course last summer while his family visited the region. He introduced the boys, ages 12 to 15, to his colorful world of robotics with a program language called Scratch.
“To be perfectly honest, they took naturally to it by the second day of teaching,” Kundu said. “I showed them how Legos work, how motors work. They even figured [out] how to use an IR [infrared remote control], allowing the robot to be remotely controlled.”
Pradyut Roy, 15, said he has always had an interest in becoming an engineer. “Ricky’s help made it easier to follow that path,” Roy said by video chat through a translator.
He remembers Kundu’s first lessons, and how excited he and his friends felt watching the blocks snap together and how written code manifested into movement.
Kundu continued his lessons from abroad, offering tips and making time for coaching sessions in free mornings or evenings over WhatsApp calls. Impressed with their creativity and fast learning, Kundu and his family decided to register the boys for the First Lego League robotic competition in New Delhi.
Kundu has competed in the League’s competitions several times since the third grade. He felt determined to steer the four “Antyodoy (Orphanage) Robot Masters” into performing challenging missions and being recognized for their abilities.
The Kundu family paid the boys’ registration fees and donated a Lego robot for them to practice with. Teaching from his home in the United States, Kundu guided the boys through completing an obstacle course consisting of a dozen Lego structures and testing various designs.
“Seeing how naturally they took to the robots and how self-motivated they were ... it felt really inspiring to me,” Kundu said. “I had never seen that level of dedication. They were so invested.”
Roy and his three teammates traveled 18 hours by train to the competition last month, ready to execute their inventions alongside 45 teams from northern India.
They emerged victorious, gripping onto the coveted trophy of “Best Rising Star,” along with their whirring, interlocked-brick creations.
Kundu, proud of the team, feels determined to encourage their passion for robotics, hoping they eventually see an open door into the larger world of engineering.
“I want to bring them forward from best rising star to more than that,” he said. “They definitely have the potential for more.”
Over a video call, Roy’s teammates gathered around him, peering over his shoulder as he told their story. The boys pushed Roy to mention their recently built robotic arm: a glove-like machine able to flex its fingers.
Roy flipped the camera to show off another project: a Lego robot able to type on a laptop.
“It’s still in progress,” he said. “Without the help of Ricky, we would have never been able to do any of this.”
Stefania Lugli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @steflugli.