By:  STEM Contributor
April 4th, 2017

Robotics competition

Students dive head-first into robotics

Meet the teams at the FIRST robotics competition, and see what (or who) inspired them to get involved.

Sydney Olympic Park is well known as the home of competitive sports in Sydney. But in March 2017, it was transformed for a different kind of competition: The FIRST Robotics regional championships.

Teams at FIRST are high school students from all over Australia, and a few from overseas as well. The winning team from this regional robotics competition is invited to compete at the world championships in the US.

Students are responsible for building a robot, with the guidance of one or more mentors, over a number of weeks. On the day of the robotics competition, robots compete as two opposed teams of three, over several rounds on a field about the size of a basketball court.

Every match is commentated, and crowd participation is encouraged. The atmosphere is, surprisingly, much more like a sports carnival than a serious engineering competition.

The robotics competition is different every year, borrowing themes from popular culture and gameplay rules from video games and sports. This variation doesn’t just keep things interesting – it means that every robot must be carefully planned and custom built to meet the challenges. This year’s challenge saw robots and humans working together to prepare a fantastical aircraft for flight (see below).

We had a chat with some of the school teams, and asked them a bit about their robots and what inspired them to get involved in robotics.

This year’s challenge

Teams had two and a half minutes to collect as many points as possible by completing tasks on the field. Choosing which activities to focus on, and building a robot around that strategy, was all part of the challenge. This year, the field was themed around preparing a mock steam-powered aircraft for flight.

Robots could focus on installing cogs to get their aircraft’s engines turning, or gathering the fuel (in the form of bright yellow balls) scattered around the arena and throwing it into a collector.

At the end of the challenge, bonus points were awarded if the robot could winch itself up into the platform representing their aircraft alongside their human pilots.

Still confused? Check out the official rules here.

Coonabarabran High School

This team really knows the meaning of keeping it simple in engineering. They used a well-designed and well-tested passive mechanism to collect and position cogs, rather than building a machine with fiddly moving parts.

Team member Jarrod explained their reasoning. “A lot of teams have these complicated mechanisms to try to flip cogs or throw balls, but that’s just more things to go wrong.”

Why did you get into robotics?

These guys have a team thanks to one teacher finding the robotics competition, and knowing exactly which student to ask to make it happen.

Jarrod – “My work experience teacher came up to me one day and said, ‘I’ve entered you in this competition – you’re going to go to Sydney, and we’re going to make a team’.”

Mackensie – “Jarrod walked into a room talking about robots. He mentioned America, and I was in.”

Harry – “I was new to town. I heard about the team at school assembly and I just thought, ‘That’s me, I want to do that’.”

Jarrod – “The FIRST Robotics competition is great because you get to know everyone, everyone’s interested and even though you’re all competing with each other there’s a really friendly vibe.”

The Collective

The Collective robot’s most distinctive feature was that its top was a recycled traffic sign.

Shawn – “We needed some sheet metal, and we happened to have an old road sign.”

These guys built their robot in less than three weeks, before bringing it across the country from regional WA to compete in Sydney. Luckily, their science teacher already had most of a robot ready to go.

The team explained that building the robot was a way to apply the coding skills they’d been learning in class, and the whole school was getting in on it. Years 8 and 9 kids watched the team work and started their own coding club to get involved.

“You know, you guys are mentoring them when you get back”, their teacher said. “We just haven’t told you that yet.”

Why did you get into robotics?

Shawn – “I’ve always wanted to know how everything works. Eventually I just started making my own stuff.”

Lachlan – “I’ve always liked building stuff – when I was a kid I had tubs and tubs of LEGO. Man, if I knew then what I knew now – the stuff I could build with that LEGO!”

Shawn – “I think I might want to work with robotics. Robots are the future. They’re going to make everything more efficient, and I guess they’ll be doing most of the work. You can make a lot of people’s lives better with robots.”

robotics competition

Brisbane Grace Lutheran College

This school group from Brisbane built a robot that was a jack of all trades. It could throw. It could climb. It could install cogs. It could probably even does the dishes for you, if you asked it nicely.

Robot engineer Tymon said, “We’re the only team in Queensland, so it’s interesting being from out of town. We were lucky to get a sponsor, Telstra, to sort out shipping our robot down here – it would have been a bit tricky otherwise.”

The team also got into the competitive spirit of the event, with their team members taking turns to wear a homemade pineapple mascot costume and dance whenever their robot was on the field.

“I’m not really sure where the pineapple came from,” said Tymon. “I think it started as a joke, and then nobody stopped it.”

Why did you get into robotics?

Bailey – “I’m interested in entrepreneurship and starting my own business. Robotics and competitions like this are a good place to start.”

Elise – “I’m mostly here because my teacher wanted to make my team bigger! But now that I’m here, it’s pretty great.”

Kayley – “It’s been a really good experience.”

robotics competition

Bingara Central School

These guys built their robot chassis in two school days, and had the rest finished off within a week. Then they transported it 700km in to Sydney, sharing a bus and a trailer with another robotics team.

Their robot focuses on doing one thing, and doing it well – accurately and reliably picking up cogs to maximise their point score.

Why did you get into robotics?

Seth & Lachlan – “Our teacher asked us if we wanted to build a robot, and we said, ‘Yeah!’ Why wouldn’t you?”

Why not indeed?

Rockwell McGellin

robotics competition
STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.