Action and adrenalin at the Schools’ Robotics World Cup at The Cloud.


Robotics World Cup draws crowds in the Cloud

There is another world cup in town this week, but minus boots, goal posts or groin injuries. For the past three days more than 400 robot-driving students from all over New Zealand, and 38 from Mexico, have been cheering and sweating amid fierce competition at the inaugural Schools’ Robotics World Cup.

Teams representing schools from Auckland, Tauranga, Palmerston North and Christchurch, as well as Massey, Auckland and Canterbury Universities and Manukau Institute of Technology, are competing at The Cloud on Auckland’s Queen’s Wharf. The alternative ‘world cup’ is organised by NZ 2011, New Zealand Information, Communication and Technology Group and Kiwibots New Zealand.

Forty teams are facing off in a fast, furious competition between robots built according to strict criteria. In the spirit of Rugby World Cup, matches mirror the rugby tournament with pool grading matches to decide the four competition pools, culminating in quarter, semi and final matches today.

Hordes of spectators and supporters are following the competition, part of the Rutherford Innovation Showcase and captured on huge overhead screens with well-known comedian Jeremy Elwood providing hilarious live commentary.

Participants are playing a game called Gateway, which will be played in Vex competitions globally in the lead up to next year’s international championships. The competition is played in a square ‘field,’ where two alliances – one red and one blue – compete in timed matches. The object of the game is to gain a higher score than your opponent by scoring barrels and balls in ‘goals’, with the chance of bonus points for doubling or negating goals.

The event grew out of New Zealand’s strong involvement with the United States-based Vex Robotics competition, which was launched here in 2008. Since then, hundreds of high school students have taken part in regional and national competitions organised by Massey University’s School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, and Kiwibots New Zealand, a charitable trust that administers the competition. Several teams, including Massey’s, have been world champions in the past three years.

Associate Professor Johan Potgieter, mechatronics lecturer at Massey’s Albany campus who has spearheaded training and mentoring of school teams since its inception, says the game has a serious purpose beyond the obvious fun, excitement and challenge.

“It’s about getting kids who are into technology, science, computers, maths to have fun in a team sport that requires a lot of different skills,” says Dr Potgieter. “They don’t realise they are learning – for them it's a game. But what they’re actually doing is using technical know-how to be creative, to solve problems and work out a strategy if they want to win the game.”

“They need to think outside the square and be imaginative – the same skills needed for engineering, product design and technology. These are the kinds of skills and expertise we need to develop and encourage if New Zealand wants to prosper in the future.”

Leon Grice, NZ 2011 director, says supporting academic challenges like this are important to nurture young New Zealanders’ interest in engineering and technology. “The ICT sector is fundamental to the economic growth of New Zealand and is already worth $5 billion annually in exports, ranking second only to the dairy sector.”

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