Academy team receives gold medal at international robotics competition | Aga Khan Academies

Academy team receives gold medal at international robotics competition

25 January 2018

27 students from the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad competed for the first time in an international robotics competition called “FIRST Lego League” (FLL) in Bangalore on 20-21 January and brought home a gold medal! These motivated students were introduced to robotics through the Academy’s after school enrichment program over the last two years. This year, Michelle Massaro, a visiting faculty member from Ontario, Canada who has extensive experience with competitive robotics in both Canada and Uganda, introduced the FLL program to the Academy. Preparations began for the competition in late September 2017 and what was going to be one team from the Academy quickly grew into three as the programme took off with a huge surge of interest and popularity.

The premise of the FLL program is that each year a different real world themed challenge is issued to all teams worldwide. This year the FLL theme was water and the game was titled “hydro dynamics.” Students taking part had to design and build a Lego robot that could perform as many different tasks on a game field within a 2.5-minute time limit, each task being worth a varying number of points. The second part of FLL is to develop a solution to an existing problem that is focused on the annual theme and present it to a panel of judges. Students also had to present their robot design and game strategy to a group of judges. Judges are made up of industry professionals from various engineering, computer and tech fields. In addition, students had to demonstrate their understanding of the FIRST organization’s “core values” such as teamwork and co-operation and how these guided their process in both the robot game and project development.

The Academy’s three teams, “the Mavericks”, “Team Queso” and “Dragon Drop” each had to operate like their own company, developing branding, social media and websites to promote and document their work throughout the season. They reached out to make connections with professionals in the engineering field by sharing their project with them to receive feedback and make revisions to their work. They also connected with robotics teams from all over the world as they made the most of social media to showcase their ongoing efforts as well as see the work of others involved in student robotics competitions elsewhere.

Accompanied by their teacher-robotics mentors Afeera Maryam and Anantha Muralikrishna as well as robotics coach Michelle Massaro, the students flew out to Bangalore on Friday ready for an early morning start. All three teams were nervous but very excited to compete with their project and robots.  When asked for one word to describe the robot competition, the students unanimously agreed “intense” was the only term! Every match was filled with enthusiasm, disappointments and successes that were tremendous learning opportunities. The “pit” areas where teams were able to practice, revise and adjust between matches were a hive of non-stop activity. The teams had to work in the pits entirely on their own once the competition began as no adult mentors or coaches were permitted inside.

“Robotics competitions like this one allow students the opportunity to experience what it is like to be ‘on the spot’ and they develop far more than robotics skills. They have to answer questions, make quick decisions and problem solve all under pressure. These skills will serve them so well in their future, regardless what avenue they choose to pursue,” said Michelle.

The Academy teams did extremely well in all areas of the competition. All three of their research projects were in the top third of the scores for the event and their robot scores all ended in the top half of the results. Team Queso was the first of 25 teams to present their project idea the ‘Smarttle,’ a ‘smart’ water bottle designed with integrated technology that helps travellers identify if the water they are drinking is safe when in a new place. After the rest of the 24 teams presented their ideas, the “Smarttle” was so memorable and impressive to the judges that it received the “Best Project Award!” Needless to say this was a tremendous surprise and highlight.

“Hearing the sound TEAM QUESO – I couldn’t believe it, everyone was so surprised, they cheered and it was a really great moment,” remarked Iliyan Bhimani, one of the winners.

As one of only two girls on the Academy’s teams, the impact of being part of the team was hugely significant to grade 9 student Pahel Lalani, who observed: “When I saw so many girls involved in FLL I felt very, very inspired and next time I want to learn the other parts like programming.” Pahel went on to say that she is inspired to lead her own all-girls team to the competition next year!

FIRST Lego League provided a huge opportunity for students to experience both competition and what it is like to be part of a team.  It involved a diverse cross section of students as so many unique skills are needed, from graphic design to computer programming, public speaking to mechanical engineering. Students were able to see how being involved in STEM related fields is an option in new and unexpected ways as their skills, knowledge and understanding from so many other areas of study transferred directly into the robot and project design and development. Their success at the event was a direct result of the impact of different subjects at the Academy from Science and Maths to Individuals & Societies and Leadership. These 27 students were fantastic examples of the holistic quality of education at the Academy in action!

Contributor: Michelle Massaro