The FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology in a competition that sees around 70 teams of students from around Australia design, build and test robots before competing in one of two national finals in Sydney.
Students aged 14-18 compete with robots they build over a six-week period; in this year’s finals, their robots were challenged to collect and move gears into an airship, shoot fuel balls into the mouth of a boiler and, finally, board the airship by climbing a rope.
Three teams competing for the first time — from Condobolin High School, Hastings Public School and Bossley Park High School — and second-timers Carbon Crusaders from Muswellbrook High School were each awarded AARNet bursaries to substantially offset the cost of participating in the FIRST Robotics World Championships, to be held in Houston, Texas, next month.
AARNet’s head of Infrastructure Development and FIRST Robotics mentor, John Nicholls, explained why the four young teams were so impressive.
“As well as raw engineering talent, we saw so much potential in these teams, none of whom were experienced FIRST competitors nor had significant sponsorship.
“We hope that by helping them get to the World Championships, the bursaries will encourage them to continue their innovative work with robotics and in STEM.”
As an event partner, AARNet also live streamed the event to viewers around the world, provided Internet connectivity for the competition venue at Sydney Olympic Park and continued its longstanding work mentoring teams in the run-up to the finals.
AARNet’s John Nicholls and Angus Griffin hosted twice-weekly mentoring sessions via Zoom video conferencing —which contributed to John being awarded the Woodie Flowers Finalist Award for his use of communications to inspire the students he mentored.
Their efforts paid off: bursary-winners Hastings logged the most mentoring hours of any team, while seasoned competitor Barker College, whom AARNet has mentored for several years, took away the top spot in both Australian competitions, as well as at the inaugural Shenzhen Regional in China in early March.
Demonstrating how the value of mentoring extends beyond a specific project or recipient, Barker College themselves are now passing on their expertise by reaching out to other schools and hosting their own robotics workshops.
AARNet’s Education Outreach Manager, Jason Arruzza, explained that AARNet is committed to the competition because of the important role it plays in inspiring students to pursue careers in the STEM disciplines.
“AARNet is very happy to have the opportunity to be involved with the FIRST Robotics Competition, as it supports our community of universities and the great work they do with schools and school students from around Australia.”
“We are so excited to be part of the STEM journey for tomorrow’s technologists, engineers, mathematicians and scientists.”
With STEM careers being vital for Australia’s prosperity, AARNet is committed to supporting STEM activities that inspire students at K-12 schools to study STEM at a tertiary level.