In September 2022, my friend, Avni, and I participated in a Robotics Competition, called World Robotics Olympiad (WRO). WRO is a global robotics challenge for young people, which uses Lego Mindstorms / EV3 (lego kit with hardware and software). We made a robot that could perform various tasks required by the competition.
First there were North and East zone Regionals. There were 100+ participants and only 8 teams were going to qualify for the Nationals. The theme of this year was “My Robot, My Friend”. For our category (8-11 year olds), the challenge was to design a garden robot that would:
1. Cut high grass: Green, tall element made with lego and in 2 parts
2. Collect bad weeds: Red element joined together with lego
3. Activate service point: See-saw type of lever that needed to be flicked, to indicate completion of tasks
4. Park itself back where it originally started
5. Not destroy (or even touch) the fences
All these elements were kept at random positions on a mat that was like a garden with dark green and light green areas. We practiced a lot and built a robot that could do all the tasks except collecting the bad weeds. The regionals were on Sep 10-11 in Shiv Nadar School, Gurgaon. Day 1 was to practice and day 2 was the actual challenge.
On the first day, we practiced at the location with the real mat and elements and were getting scores like 89, 71, 83, etc. (out of 125). We were feeling confident and very happy with how it was shaping up. The next day was the real competition. We were required to break our robot and rebuild it at the location (from our memory). Our design was very sleek and minimalistic – so we were done building it in 15 minutes.
Now it was time for our first practice round. To our surprise, the robot didnt budge! We realized that the code was not downloaded into the robot, as it ought to be. We fixed it and then the robot just made a sound of the wheels trying to move however it still did not move. We were stunned but were trying not to panic. Avni double-checked the code, while I examined the assembly. We had already spent 10 minutes earlier, to figure out how to put the balancing wheels. Finally I realized that our castor wheels needed to be put the other way around. Phew! Now it was working as expected. Then the actual competition started and it was going to be Best of 3 rounds.
In the first round, we got a score of 18 out of 125. We were very disappointed and were unsure what went wrong. We brainstormed and concluded that the placement of our robot changed because we had to activate it from the hardware (which we had never accounted for, but should have!). We were careful in the second round and were able to score 69 points (which was eventually our best score). The final results were announced and we were overjoyed because we were amongst the 8 teams from North and East zone who had qualified for the Nationals. Yippeeee!
We had loads of fun and also made some friends. There was a participant called Sharanya who looked a lot like Hermione (from Harry Potter), so we called her fake Hermione. We also played in their basketball court between the rounds. We also stood on chairs to cheer for all the other teams because everyone had worked so hard on their robots and we could see that everyone was trying their best.
The nationals were on Sep 30 – Oct 1 in Noida. This was a 1.5 hour drive from Gurgaon and they were going to announce a surprise rule to make the competition harder. There were teams coming in from all over India. It was in Global Genesis school in a huge hall. When we arrived, we saw at least 500 people at the event, including coaches, parents and participants.
We had used the 3 weeks to prepare our robot to compete in the nationals. We added 2 more color sensors to make our robot smarter. Also, we changed the design to make it horizontal instead of vertical so that the positioning does not get disturbed when we activate the robot. On the d-day, we had to break every component we had used. This was tricky and we forgot our design. First we panicked and almost gave up. Then I reminded Avni about something that I had read elsewhere: “If you have components, you have a chance”. We were both inspired and started creating a new robot design based on whatever we had learnt in the last 3 months of practicing at home. Finally, Avni tested the code a lot. I was in charge of positioning and even if it went a millimetre to one side, our score would decrease by at least 10 points. Whenever we started, I had butterflies in my stomach. Eventually, we ended up with the BRONZE BADGE and were among the top 25 teams all across India. We were thrilled at this awesome news. Our parents and also other strangers congratulated us! It was an experience I will always remember very fondly.
Avni said, “In this competition, the thing I enjoyed most was, interacting with my friend and coach. The parts I felt challenged on were the announcement of surprise rules and the robot building. We had to carry an open mindset and the problem solving had a lot of challenges. What I realized was how all this we learn in school about problem-solving, open mindsets and collaboration plays a huge role in our life experiences. I also learned more about robotics. We will be competing next year and the goal is to come at the top and represent India at the International level”.