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Robots in Space! set to make kids wonder and wander

Suzanne Lazaroo

25 June 2019: An exciting, Canberra-based robot design competition, Robots in Space! has the Moon in its sights … and is looking to inspire Year 5 and 6 students to new heights.

The competition will see student teams designing and/or building their own robotic lunar explorers. To do this, they will have to imagine the challenges their robots could face on the Moon – and come up with creative solutions to overcome them.

The initiative to stoke students’ interest in Science, Technology, Education and Mathematics (STEM) was brought to life by a collaboration among PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia, the University of Canberra, Questacon, the Australian Space Agency and Robogals Canberra.

“It is crucial to foster an environment in which kids can be introduced to STEM at their own pace,” said Kate Gibbins, President of Robogals Canberra. “Not enough school students are exposed to science and engineering in an exciting and innovative way. As a result, STEM fields are in desperate need of more passionate and creative minds.”

“Encouraging young thinkers to undertake STEM activities is very important for our future,” said Professor Eileen McLaughlin, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Canberra.

“The faculty supports this collaborative initiative as a great opportunity to give back to the community and teach children how STEM can be fun and exciting – as well as helping children think outside the box for solving solutions that they will face in their day-to-day lives. Encouraging them now with hands-on activities like Robots in Space! is a step in the right direction.” 

As a member of the judging panel, Professor McLaughlin is very excited to see what teams will come up with, particularly when it comes to the creative thinking underlying the design.

So is Anthony Murfett, Deputy Head of the Australian Space Agency and another Robots in Space! judge.

“The STEM skills students develop from programs like this are a great introduction to the skills they’ll need for the jobs of the future,” Mr Murfett said. “With the rapid transformation of Australia’s space industry, these jobs include a vast array of space-related jobs right here in Australia.”

This year, teams will register and submit entries for the Canberra-based competition via the Robots in Space! website, hosted by the University of Canberra.

Students can participate in one of two categories. Teams in the General category will create a non-functional robot; the Open category is for schools that have access to robot kits and will see teams build functional robots.

Teams in both categories will build obstacle courses, created around their robots’ perceived challenges.

“We know how important it is to get students interested in STEM, and we wanted to make the competition accessible to everyone, as well as collaborative, educational and fun,” said Gavin Fairlamb, Senior Manager Technology Consulting at PwC Australia and the Robots in Space! project leader.

University of Canberra Associate Professor Dr Damith Herath said that compared to other competitions of its kind, Robots in Space! has less of a focus on coding, and encourages creativity and collaboration across diverse areas, including the arts.

“This broader STEA[rts]M approach to learning is going to be an important part of future-proofing our youngsters,” he said.

The lunar focus of Robots in Space! is particularly timely as the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing this year.

“The Moon landing epitomises what STEM is all about – a group of people coming together with common purpose, collaborating to answer one of humanity’s big questions,” said Sam Hardwicke, Educator Program Manager at Questacon.

“Robots in Space! is a terrific platform for participants to engage in meaningful inquiry learning, building not only knowledge, but the skills and dispositions that are – and will continue to be – integral in solving some really wicked problems,” he added.

Click here for more information, or to register.