Teenagers face the challenges of the 21st century in a robotics competition


On their first trip to the celebrated robotics competition for high school students from numerous countries, a team of Ukrainian teenagers had a problem.

With goods deliveries to Ukraine uncertain, and Ukrainian customs officials careful with incoming goods, the group only received a basic set of gadgets on the day they left for the event in Geneva.

That sparked a mad scramble to assemble their robot for the latest edition of the “Global First” competition, a three-day affair that opened Friday in person for the first time since the pandemic. Almost all 180 teams, from countries around the world, had months to prepare their robots.

“We couldn’t give up because we were really determined to compete here and give our country a good result — because it really needs that right now,” said Danilo Gladki, a member of the Ukrainian team. He and his teammates are too young to qualify for Ukraine’s national call for all males over 18 to participate in the war effort.

Gladkyi said an international package delivery company does not deliver to Ukraine, and relying on a smaller private company to deliver the kit from Poland to Ukraine has run into a tangle with customs officials. That impasse was cleared last Sunday, forcing the team to rush to prepare their robot for the adaptations they had planned – just days before the competition began.

The event, launched in 2017 with the support of American innovator Dean Kamen, encourages young people from all over the world to put their technical savvy and mechanical knowledge to bear on challenges that represent symbolic solutions to global problems.

This year’s theme is carbon capture, a new technology in which excess heat-trapping CO2 from the atmosphere is sucked out of the sky and sequestered, often underground, to help fight global warming.

Teams use game controllers like those attached to consoles in millions of households around the world to direct their self-designed robots around pits or “fields” to collect hollow plastic balls with holes in them that symbolically represent carbon. Each round begins by emptying a transparent rectangular box filled with balls into the field, which causes a buzzing, hissing sound to pick them up.

The initial goal is to fill a tower topped by a funnel in the middle of the field with as many balls as possible. Teams can do this in one of two ways: by directing the robots to drop the balls into corner pockets, where team members can pull them out and hand them into the funnel, or by having the robots catapult the balls into the funnel themselves.

Each team has an interest in filling the funnel: the more collected, the more everyone benefits.

But in the last 30 seconds of each session, after the frenetic quest to collect the balls, another, gnawing challenge awaits: along the stem of each tower are short branches, or bars, at different levels that the teams – choosing a mechanism of their choice such as hooks, winches or arms drawable – try to guide their robots to climb.

The higher the level reached, the higher the “multiplier” of the total point value of the balls they will receive. Success is as high as possible, and with six teams on the field, it’s a race for the top position.

Linking competition with common interest, the First Global initiative aims to offer a tonic to a troubled world, where children look beyond politics to help solve problems that face everyone.

The opening ceremony had an Olympic feel to it, with teams parading behind their national flags and short bars of national anthems, but the youngsters made it clear that this is a new breed of global high school sport, in an industrial domain that promises to make a big mark on 21st century.

Competition distracts many minds from the world’s troubles, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the aftermath of the protracted war in Syria, to the famine in the Horn of Africa and the recent upheaval in Iran.

While most of the world’s countries participated, some did not: Russia was notably left out.

Past winners of such robotics competitions include “Team Hope” – refugees and other stateless people – and a team of Afghan girls.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Latest

To Top