STEM champs go global

A TEAM of Trinity College students will take their Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills to a global stage after winning a prestigious national robotics challenge in Sydney recently.

The “BaCoNeers” team, made up of Trinity College students from years 10-12, was declared overall champion at this year’s national FIRST Tech Challenge tournament, held a fortnight ago.

A global competition, the challenge involves designing, building, programming and operating robots to compete in head-to-head challenges, with teams able to strategise and choose allies.

Having won the national title, the BaCoNeers have won the right to take on international opponents in Houston, Texas, at the world championships in April.

Team coach Sue O’Malley said the new challenge for the annual competition was revealed in September, so the students only had three months – during the busy end-of-year period – to come up with their robot and match-day strategy.

“At the moment, we’re the only team in South Australia, which is really hard for us,” Mrs O’Malley said.

“We hit the nationals without any match practise whatsoever, and that means we made silly mistakes, often in our first couple of matches.

“We were lucky that we were still undefeated through the qualifiers, which was really good.”

This year, the challenge involved entering into a field of competing robots, with the robot remote-controlled to collect balls and shoot them at different goals, and programmed to complete goal-orientated tasks by itself.

The BaCoNeers’ robot, ‘Crispy’, was engineered to include a mechanical ball-shooter, a harvester to collect balls from the ground, a conveyor belt to push those balls to the shooter, and sensors to process information during its automation challenge.

Team members were split up into three areas – engineering, programming and strategy – to streamline, and make the most of, their skills.

However, it was also the team’s 600 hours of community outreach – which included promoting STEM through the Maker Faire Adelaide and Science Alive exhibitions earlier in the year – which prompted judges to hand the BaCoNeers the title.

Team member and year 10 student Luke Voigt said the experience, thus far, has given him a new-found appreciation for engineering, with other members saying it’s helped them in their aspirations to study in STEM areas, such as quantum computing, programming and media design.

“I’ve really enjoyed this and it’s really inspired me to be an engineer, it’s been a great help,” Luke said.

“Originally, I was wanting to be a programmer, but then I decided that it was something that I didn’t want to do so much, as I picked up more of the building side and a little bit of strategy.

“I want to be a mechatronic engineer, building robots and electronic systems that work together.”

Along with performing in Houston in four months time, the BaCoNeers said they hope to encourage other schools to start up teams, in order to develop a competition across the state, and further promote STEM.

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