Epic Legonians shake things up in Vancouver

By Abbi Russell

A model of the EQ-EAST –
Earth Quake Early Alert System for Transportation
The shaking started with little warning, prompting a flurry of flashing lights just before the suspension bridge started to sway. Thankfully, no one was on the bridge during the earthquake, because, well, it’s made of LEGOs. But had it been a real bridge with traffic, lives could have been saved by EQ-EAST – the Earth Quake Early Alert System for Transportation.

EQ-EAST is the brainchild of a group of aspiring engineers who call themselves the Epic Legonians. The team of fifth graders created the system to warn drivers in advance of an earthquake and prevent them from driving onto bridges as the seismic waves hit.

The system measures seismic movement using sensors installed in buildings and other structures. The sensors trigger a warning system of flashing lights on bridges within the quake zone. The system also has potential for use in homes and businesses to warn people to take cover before the shaking in their area begins.

On Jan. 2, the Legonians presented their research and concept to a panel of nine WSDOT engineering and maintenance staff from Southwest Region and Headquarters. The team, which is part of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) LEGO League, was looking for feedback and suggestions as they continue developing their design in advance of a statewide competition in late January. They had also presented to and received feedback from the Arizona, Florida and Oregon departments of transportation.

The Epic Legonians (from left to right: Ramya,
Shruthi, Aishwarya and Zoe) pose with WSDOT staff
The panel was impressed with the team’s research and thoroughness. They asked questions and provided real-world, technical feedback on the system’s potential, how to make it more effective, and other issues to consider in the realm of traffic and transportation.

Southwest Region Bridge Supervisor Mike London feels the concept has a lot of potential. He peppered the team with questions and feedback from the maintenance perspective, and said he’d keep an eye out for further developments.

Keeping people safe and moving is the cornerstone of our work. We are pleased to have had the chance to help the Epic Legonians stretch their minds and develop creative solutions to improve our society.