Imagine you’re part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. It’s your job to develop a robot like the Curiosity Rover, which must land on Mars and scoop up rock samples to be analyzed back on Earth.
That’s exactly what local middle and high school students were challenged to do during the 9th Regional Botball Robotics Challenge held at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar over the weekend.
Botball is an action-packed robotics competition for secondary school students that develops knowledge and practical understanding through a hands-on experience with science, technology, engineering, and math. Additionally, students learn soft skills like problem solving, teamwork, time management and leadership-giving them insight into what it takes to become a successful Carnegie Mellon student.
Enthusiastic crowds of friends and family cheered on the 225 participants, with a team from Qatar Academy named overall champion. Qatar’s Lycee Bonaparte finished 2nd overall, while Al Khor International School finished 3rd.
Qatar Academy team member Abdullah Al-Shakarchi said: “Botball is a great competition and has taught me to be fast and efficient. I really enjoy learning through game about artificial intelligence and product development. Our strategy to win was to keep it simple and get it 100 percent right.”
The Botball program introduces secondary school students to the world of robotics, equipping them with the necessary skills and experience to independently design, build and program autonomous robots using ‘C’ – the most widely used programming language in industry and academia.
Cania Antariksa participated in the Botball Regional Finals twice before was motivated to study computer science to achieve her dream of becoming a gaming programmer.
This year, as a freshman in computer science, Antariksa joined in Botball yet again, but this time as a volunteer to mentor other students through the competition.
“Participating in Botball last year was fun, hectic and a great experience. It developed my interest in programming and led me to apply to do computer science at Carnegie Mellon,” Antariksa said.
Each year, the regional finals focus on a particular theme.
With NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover reaching the Red Planet last August, students this year had to use robots to “collect” rocks and “send” the samples back to Earth using ‘C’.
The goal was to show students how robotics technologies, physics and mathematical concepts are used to perform tasks like space exploration.
Students competing have the opportunity to interact with faculty, students and are judged in part by industry experts.
Sirraj Kara, senior engineer, embedded software, Williams F1, relished the opportunity to connect with aspiring students and families at the event.
“I am impressed with the level of programming language understood by students. This is the same programming language I use in my work to develop software and it is great to see students understanding and applying the concepts,” Kara said.
This year’s event attracted 225 students from 20 schools.
As the first place winner, Qatar Academy will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, in July to attend the 2013 Global Conference on Educational Robotics where they will meet middle school and high school students, robot enthusiasts, and professionals from around the world. In Oklahoma, they will also compete in the 2013 International Botball Tournament.
The annual Botball season kicked off in Doha with a two-day workshop in February, in which 50 students from 29 regional schools learned how to command autonomous robots.
Schools from Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Egypt participated in the Botball Regional Finals: Doha Independent Secondary School for Boys; Al Ru'ya Bilingual School; The Lebanese School; Al Wakrah Independent School for Boys; Al Mawakeb School - Al Barsha; Hamza Preparatory School for Boys; American School of Doha; Doha College; Hayah International Academy; Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Thani Secondary School; Al Khor International School; The British School of Kuwait; Lycee Bonaparte; Qatar Academy; Al Mawakeb School - Al Garhoud; International School of Arts and Sciences; Al Bayan Bilingual School; Dukhan English School; DPS - Modern Indian School, Doha and the International School of London – Qatar.