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International Robotics Olympiad

Collyer’s Compete in Washington, DC

Seven teenagers from Collyer’s Sixth Form College travelled to Washington DC in the summer 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 21 st 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.

Each team played in six matches over the course of the two competition days and Team UK continued to win two of their three matches on Day 1 – their third match ending with the robot ending up like a turtle, prompting the team to make some rapid adjustments.

Many teams brought traditional dishes, foods or dress with them to Washington to show the world and, with tension so high, Team UK thought it appropriate to share the wonder that is a good cup of Earl Grey. Many had good reviews of the tea – the kiwi mentor was particularly happy to have finally found a cuppa!

The second competition day went much the same as the first except there was a lot of shirt signing going on by that point. The UK robot was strong enough to drive off the side of the bridge during Team UK’s first match of Day 2… fortunately it made a comeback, winning in the following round in an alliance with Haiti and the Dominican Republic against France, Kosovo and Mexico but then went on to lose in their final match.

Throughout the event, Dean Kamen and manager Joe Sestak emphasised that the spirit of FIRST Global was not to battle or to win, but to work together and, in Kamen’s words, “show the world what real cooperation can do”. Over the course of the week in Washington, Team UK definitely helped show the world what happens when we work together. The UK Team from Collyer’s now has ongoing friendships in countries as close as France and Ireland to countries as far as Chile and Tanzania.

Team UK would like to thank everyone at FIRST Global for such an incredible and life-changing experience. A big shout out to everyone who helped us along the way, especially Vikrant Bhargava, Keith from Collyer’s Design Technology, Rotary Club Horsham and Red River.

At the closing ceremony, it was announced that the second FIRST Global event will take place in Mexico City in July 2018. We will be working with robots at Collyer’s for the foreseeable future; to any new Collyer’s students looking to get involved in Robotics, talk to Diane Dowling in Computer Science – we look forward to seeing you at Fresher’s Fayre.

Article by student and Student Robotics team member, Charlie Brooker

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