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Robotics hitting new highs

By Colin MacGillivray

A local teacher believes the future is bright for the burgeoning field of robotics in schools across the Wimmera.

Horsham’s Holy Trinity Lutheran College technology teacher Adam Engert helped organise the school’s fledgling robotics program, which this year produced two state-champion teams at RoboCup Junior Victorian finals in August.

Mr Engert then escorted grade five student Cameron Maher to the national finals of the competition in Melbourne last month.

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He said there was rising interest in the study of robotics among pupils from the region.

“Last year we started technology at the school across all year levels,” he said.

“We try to do extracurricular activities all the time and look at what we can be involved in outside of the school.

“Cameron is in year five and beat kids who were in year 10 and 12 competing at the state finals. He had a few issues at nationals, but he did really well and came away with a good result.

“He’s rapt about engineering and robotics. He can’t wait to do it again, and I had a lot of kids at school asking me if there are any more competitions this year.

“There are probably 20 kids who have said they’ll sign up again for next year.

“I hope they do because some of them have kept their robots, so maybe they’ll put them in storage over the holidays and then bring them back.”

Mr Engert said Holy Trinity had organised a regional RoboCup Junior final for the first time earlier this year, bringing schools from across the Wimmera together to compete.

He said he hoped to expand the regional competition in 2020 to include even more schools from the region.

RoboCup Junior is an offshoot of a RoboCup competition for university students.

Primary and secondary school teams across the country contest several categories in RoboCup Junior, including rescue and soccer competition.

Mr Engert said Cameron participated in a Riley Rover Rescue division for beginners at the state finals but was forced to step up to a Primary Rescue section for the national finals.

“One of the things they base the competition on is rescue robots in disaster-relief locations,” he said.

“At the state finals he was in the ‘have a go’ section – they call it Riley Rover – but they say if you’re good enough to do well at state level and you want to go to nationals, you have to do the full course.

“They do a line-following course with black lines on white tiles, and then they start mixing up the tiles and putting more in.

“They start doing speed bumps and obstacles like sticks, they put in inclines and declines, they have bridges that tilt and there is one challenge with 20 lines going in different directions and you have to follow the green one. They even put a water bottle on the track.

“He’d never had to do most of those obstacles during the year, but it was good for him to have a challenge.”

The school’s robot soccer team also won a state final, and Mr Engert said the students were keen to keep improving.

“The kids have offered to referee the soccer events and help score for the Horsham region competition next year,” he said.

“Brian Thomas, who came to help us run the Horsham event, is the co-founder of the whole competition from 20 years ago. He lived in Horsham and went to primary school here, and then came back and did the first Horsham event.

“He’s going to come back next year and they’re going to try to get some more schools competing.

“I never got a chance to compete at national level when I was a kid, so it’s a good thing for the students to aspire to.”

The entire November 6, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!