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Teenage Robotics Olympiad

By Charlie Brooker

"Over the summer I did embarrassingly little gliding... but with good reason. One of these reasons was that for the first week of my summer holidays I was on an expense paid trip to Washington DC to represent the UK in a teenage Robotics Olympiad. I wrote about the selection process in my last Southdown Soaring article, promising pictures and tales of heroism upon my return - I shall not disappoint. Below is my account on the competition and a few of my highlights from the trip. Enjoy!"

Seven teenagers from Collyer’s Sixth Form College travelled to Washington DC in mid-July to represent the United Kingdom at FIRST Global, an international robotics Olympiad.

 In May, the Collyer’s Robotics team made county headlines by coming third in the UK Student Robotics competition – the best result ever seen by the college. For reaching the top three, they were given the opportunity to make a video pitch for representing the UK in the inaugural FIRST Global Robotics Challenge (FIRST = For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The pitch made by the Collyer’s team was successful and they soon found themselves preparing to take their new robot to the United States.

Every year the FIRST organisation will take the theme for FIRST Global from the National Academy of Engineering’s “14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century”. These range across a plethora of fields from making solar energy economical to preventing nuclear terror. For the inaugural year, FIRST chose the challenge of providing access to clean water. This challenge is a big one – water use has quadrupled in the past four decades and despite this, more than a billion people do not have reliable access to fresh, drinkable water. The FIRST founder, Dean Kamen, believes “We can empty half of all the beds in all the hospitals in the world by just giving people clean water.”

 The goal faced by the robots, named “H2O Flow”, was based on providing clean water for all. Each round involved six different nations’ teams split into two randomly assigned alliances on opposite sides of the arena. The robots then had two and a half minutes to score as many points as they can to win the round for their alliance. Scoring involved sorting blue balls – “water particles” – from orange balls – “contaminant particles”. Once collected from the arena’s river bed the water particles were carried to the alliance reservoir and the contaminant particles to the alliance laboratory atop the bridge. Once the two and a half minutes were over, teams could score bonus points if their robots had lifted themselves off the ground using a climbing bar.

The team at Collyer’s after being

chosen to represent the UK