Robotics competition gets tough on smarter students

Robotics students are getting smarter, so organisers of the international Nadav Shoham Robotraffic competition have put them on notice – next year’s contest is going to be more difficult!

Teams representing schools in the World ORT network once again dominated the winners’ table even as the competition, which is hosted by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, attracts a wider range of teams.

But they will have to work harder to maintain their standing if comments by Professor Moshe Shoham, Head of the Technion’s National Centre for Robotics, are anything to go by.

“We can see that students are getting smarter year after year. So we have to make it more challenging, more difficult,” Professor Shoham said.

Robotics is the future

His observation is a complement not only to the students but also to their teachers, who are increasingly adept at putting their experience to good use in the classroom and in extra-curricular robotics clubs. And it’s a sign, the Professor said, of how the increased availability of robotics kits is making the subject more accessible.

Professor Moshe Shoham with ORT Odessa’s Izolda Zogranian, Anna Tikhonova and Sofiia Bakhtiiarova. The team won the “Racing” category and was overall winner of the junior high school category.

“People see that it’s the future,” he said.

But this year’s competition may also be witness to the beginning of the end of the kits’ domination.

“This year there were students who built their own car from scratch instead of using a kit. It was very impressive,” said Professor Shoham. “It’s a good way to go and we would like to add this to the competition by giving credit to students who build the robot themselves.”

This year’s competition – the eighth – narrowly broke last year’s record of 1,000 participants, attracting teams from 80 schools from Argentina, Israel, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia and the United States. The competition has categories for elementary and high schools, the latter being divided by age into junior and senior. Teams from the World ORT network comprised half the entries in the high school category.

The competition involves putting small programmed robotic cars on a track where they have to deal with simulated road conditions. Other challenges include SolidWORKS in which students use Computer Aided Design to make 3D models of car parts and presenting a new idea to improve road safety.

Everyone’s a winner

Teachers are delighted by the enthusiasm that students, like these from ORT Chernivtsi, show for robotics.

Schools in, or affiliated to, the World ORT network took 13 of the top three places in each of the competition’s six senior categories. Those coming first were ORT Odessa (Careful Driving), ORT Moscow School (SolidWORKS) and ORT Kiev School and Misgav (Traffic Regulations and Rules). ORT Odessa was the overall winner in the junior category with ORT Kazan third.  

But it’s true to say that everyone who took part was a winner.

Mikhail Libkin, who coordinated the ORT teams from the Former Soviet Union, was struck, for example, by the enthusiasm of the ORT Chernivtsi students. 

“They are very young guys – in grades 7 and 8 – and don’t yet know what they would like to do after they leave school. But we know for sure that they’re now very interested in learning design, programming, maths and physics and that they enjoy working in a team and completing projects. They’re not afraid of technology – and I’m sure they’ll remember their schooldays with joy. This is what it’s all about,” Mr Libkin said.

The non-Israeli teams spent the days before the competition at Abir Yaakov near Nahariya, one of six schools in the World ORT Kadima Mada network. In between practicing for the competition, they were taken on a series of excursions around the country.

The Colegio Israelita de Mexico – ORT (CIM-ORT) team visited Intel as part of their exploration of Israel ahead of the competition.

“This is my first time in Israel and it’s been very interesting. I like it very much,” said Sasha Volinskiy, a member of the ORT Kiev team. “We’ve seen a lot but the high point was visiting Jerusalem; it has a magical power for me.”

His team, like the other ORT teams from the Former Soviet Union, were able to take part in the competition thanks to the generous support of IBS, a major international developer of complex IT solutions. The Nadav Shoham Robotraffic competition itself is a partnership between the Technion, World ORT and its operational arm in Israel, World ORT Kadima Mada, and the World Zionist Organisation in cooperation with the YTEK Foundation and Eytam Robotics.