Robotics challenge creates a buzz

Shankar Paulraj, Justin Miller and Kieran Finch of St. Ignatius manoeuvre their robotic vehicle through a series of challenges Saturday.

In a crowded sports hall, students whoop with delight as their classmates rack up another point to gain a knife-edge victory against an opposing team.

For once it is not a basketball or soccer match that is generating this level of excitement, but an academic tournament.

That is the beauty of the ‘Rover Ruckus’ FIRST Tech Challenge, says Glenda McTaggart of Dart Minds Inspired, which organised the event Saturday.

“The whole programme is about trying to get the same level of excitement and energy for academics that we see for sports or a concert,” she said.

Students in science and maths programmes across eight high schools in the Cayman Islands were given robotics kits and challenged over three months to create a robot vehicle that could compete in the tournament at the Camana Bay Arts and Recreation Centre.

The complex challenges involved computer coding and using their smartphones to independently detach the robots from a ‘mother ship’. The students were then required to remotely operate the robots to perform a series of challenges.

As the tournament progressed, teams were required to form alliances with other schools to compete for the overall championship.

Caylem Hill, 17, of Cayman International School, said the event had brought students together.

He said everyone had been willing to help each other, and to loan each other tools or expertise when inevitable mechanical problems occurred.

Caylem Hill and Jack McGregor, of Cayman International School, were part of a winning alliance. – PHOTOS: JAMES WHITTAKER

“You realise that everything is going to break and you have to have a plan for when things go wrong,” he said.

His teammate Jack McGregor, 17, added, “Everyone has been helping each other out. Everyone wants to make sure everyone’s robot is working. We all want to win but we want to win in a fair fight.”

Cayman International School were the eventual victors in an alliance with Cayman Prep that defeated St. Ignatius Catholic School and John Gray High School in the final.

Von Ryan Abrantes, science teacher at St. Ignatius Catholic School, said the event had been a great experience for his students.

“We had 15 students involved. Some of them worked with programming, some with robotics, some mechanics and operations. They were really excited and motivated to participate,” he said.

He said it was great to see students from different schools mixing and working together.

The event was sponsored by a mix of Science Technology Engineering and Math focussed businesses in Cayman; Aureum Re, Caribbean Utilities Company, Dart, Digicel and Cayman Islands Health City.

Each team was assigned an engineer from CUC who worked with them during the design phase.

Stan Hunter, a robotics teacher from Toronto, who coached Canada’s national team at the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge in Mexico, was also brought in to work with the teachers and students. He said the event had been incredible.

“The mindset of gracious professionalism and teams helping other teams to perform at their best means a great road ahead for collaboration between all the schools in Cayman while still fiercely competing,” he added.

“I saw students problem-solving with students from other schools, teachers and industry mentors working alongside, all working at a common goal, while learning and applying mechanical design, programming, teamwork, electronics, communication, and game strategy.”

McTaggart said students from various schools would be selected for a Cayman Islands national team that would go to the next global event in Dubai later this year.

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