12 April 2023

South Coast students jetting off to Texas for international robotics competition

| Claire Sams
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Robotics competition winners

The five students will also visit NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Photo: Robo Rebels 5988/Facebook.

A group of South Coast students is heading overseas to compete in an international robotics championship.

The Robo Rebels 5988 team of five will be heading to Houston for the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition from 19 to 22 April.

Narooma High School teacher Christina Potts, one of the coaches and mentors of the team, said their success was down to the students’ hard work.

“This competition is about collaboration and about building strength within each team in the competition.”

While in Houston, they will face other teams from around the world with their robot, called Noodles, who was flown to Houston via Hawaii and San Francisco in recent weeks.

The team will also see some of the local sights while in the United States, including a hospital to see the use of robots and automation in healthcare and NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

“They’re going to have a lot of interaction with professionals in the industry and get to see where they could end up,” Ms Potts said.

They won their spot at Houston after a successful showing at the Southern Cross Regional event, which was held in Wollongong in March 2023.

At Wollongong, they formed an alliance with two Sydney-based teams and went on to win in the best-of-two finals.

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Narooma High School student and main programmer of Noodles, Kye Potter, said the team’s small size meant everyone had to pitch in and work on different aspects of design, engineering and programming.

Once the 2023 season started in January, the team had a matter of weeks to work on their robot before the March competition.

Teams are provided with some items at the start of each competition season, but also have some creative freedom.

The robots need to be capable of carrying out tasks during competition, including a 15-second automated period.

“The team built a robot that was reliable and dependable and didn’t break down through the two and a half days of competition, and managed to be selected in an alliance, and was able to win the competition with three robots that we played with,” said Ms Potts.

But success in Wollongong also meant they needed to raise the money needed to take the team to Texas.

“We have done a lot of fundraising, and we’re still doing fundraisers right now because it is incredibly expensive to go over to the US, especially last minute,” said Mr Potter.

Their fundraising efforts have included a GoFundMe campaign and selling raffle tickets, as well as being awarded grants from external sources.

“We feel really humbled that we’ve got incredible support and generosity, so it looks like we’re going to achieve our fundraising goal,” said Ms Potts.

The team were still accepting donations, with any money over the fundraising goal to be put towards future costs of running the program.

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Looking beyond the Texas competition, any business that could sponsor the team on a longer-term basis to make sure they can keep offering the program to future students is invited to get in touch, said Ms Potts.

The robotics program is offered as an extracurricular activity to students after school, with students also coming in on the school holidays and on weekends to work on their robot.

“The team that we’ve got this year has been involved since they’ve been in Year 7 at Narooma High School, so they’ve sort of been in it for the long haul,” Ms Potts said.

“They’re really worthy of this trip, I think, and it’s great that they’ve worked so hard.”

Participation in the FIRST competition also stands as a springboard from which students gain experience, skills and insight into future career options, Ms Potts said.

“The world’s becoming so much more automated and machines need to be built by people who have an understanding of the needs of people – it’s the people behind the machines that we need to grow and develop and nurture.

“That’s what our involvement in this competition does, I think.”

Mr Potter said he had gained knowledge and skills in engineering and programming that would carry him forward into his planned career in technology, such as the programming language Java.

“There’s so much that I only know because of this robotics competition.”

More information on supporting the Robo Rebels can be found on the team’s website.

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