Donning T-shirts of all colors and designs, some of the world's brightest science-minded boys and girls met in Tokyo in late April for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) Open Asian Championship, an international robotics competition for children aged 9 to 15.

The atmosphere was tense at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Shibuya Ward, where 700 children from 25 countries showed off their computer- programmed robots. Disco music blared and the frantic voices of emcees echoed across the arena, adding a sense of frenzy to an event in which participants were already under heavy pressure.

In the competition, which was started by the U.S.-based charity FIRST and toy maker LEGO in 1998, children in each team use a kit provided by LEGO to design and build their own autonomous, portable robots that perform various tasks. Teams score points whenever their robots, equipped with light and touch sensors, move back and forth between their bases and structures such as a hydraulic dam and a house with a solar-powered roof. Teams also make oral presentations of their technical and team-building skills, as well as research related to a particular theme, which this year was exploring the best ways of producing and consuming energy.