Bishop's Waltham school children celebrate winning fourth year in robot-making competition

Romsey Advertiser: The Operation Exploration Team from Swanmore College with their robot at the lego challenge in Winchester Science Centre The Operation Exploration Team from Swanmore College with their robot at the lego challenge in Winchester Science Centre

A GROUP of children from Bishop’s Waltham are celebrating after winning a robot-building competition - for the fourth year running.

Pupils from Swanmore College of Technology beat teams from 23 schools across the south-east to make the best robot from Lego bricks with microchips.

As well as building the robot, they had to impress the judges with their teamwork and presentation. And they made it look serious fun – dressing up as characters, including a mad scientist, jungle explorer and parrot.

This year’s challenge, organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, was called “Nature’s Fury.” Schools were asked to choose a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or flood, and design a robot to help in the rescue.

Using “intelligent” Lego bricks with built-in microchips plus motors and light sensors, the children built themselves pint-sized robots that moved around a competition board, avoided obstacles and did set tasks. Pupils wrote programmes on their computer and sent it to the robot.

“We are all about inspiring kids into science and technology,” said Andy Lane, marketing manager of Winchester Science Centre which has hosted the regional heat of the First Lego League competition for the last six years.

And it was non-stop action. Each team had three attempts to show their robot could accomplish its set mission in two-and-a- half minutes.

I watch as a team from Mayfield Academy in Sholing, Southampton, takes to the stage. “It is like the Grand Prix here,” says marketing manager turned commentator Andy as he begins the countdown.

There is a slight technical hitch. The robot refuses to budge. Only two of the team are allowed at the competition table and they look temporarily stumped but a teammate supporting from the sidelines has a bright idea. “You need to switch it on,” he shouts.

The robot whizzes off and bangs into a container to knock a pile of plastic logs to the other side of the table. Mission accomplished – and big cheers.

Students from the winning Swanmore side, who will now compete in a national final, honed their skills at an after-school STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) club.

Parent helper Ian Ford, an aeronautical engineer, said: “It helps to get the youngsters interested in science and engineering and doing something a bit different outside the normal school environment.

“They do all the hard work and problem solving – we just encourage from the sidelines.”

One of the winning team, Peter Banks, 14, said: “I have loved Lego since I was very little. “I’m doing computer programming at school and it couldn’t get any better than this. It’s been a great project.”

His team mate Ella Dixon, 15, said: “It is really fun and really enjoyable. I want to be an English teacher but I have learnt how to programme a computer.”

While pupils from Swamore College of Technology were the overall champions, Kings’ School in Winchester, won the technical cup and a team from New Forest Primary School, the core values cup.

Before the results were announced, Southampton University lecturer Dr Sarvapali Ramchurn gave a talk on how unmanned vehicles can help in disaster relief.

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