A Robot Made in Belgium in Washington!

Translated from French.

From July 14 to 19, 7 young people flew to Washington to represent Belgium at the first ever Global Robotics Olympics, the “FIRST Global Challenge”. The establishment and supervision of this “Team Belgium”, in Mons and Washington, has been enabled by the cooperation, existing for several years already, between the University of Mons and Jeunesses Scientifiques de Belgique. This partnership ensures the animation of weekly scientific activities and robotics for many children, on Saturday, on the campus of the plain of Nimy (and on the campus of Joncquois from this year 2017-2018).

It all starts in March, when the hosts are contacted directly from Washington by the organizer of the event, looking for a team that can represent Belgium. Seven young people aged 16 to 18 from all over Belgium are quickly selected by lottery, and weekly robotics training sessions are held in the FabLab Mons on Wednesday afternoons. It is about talking about robotics and strategy, but also about organizing this adventure, sponsored by the University of Mons (specifically by SciTech² and the Polytechnic Faculty), the Jeunesses Scientifiques de Belgique, the Tilmont Fund of the King Baudoin Foundation and First Global (American NGO). The theme and the progress of these Olympics are announced in April: from a kit of 10 kilos spare parts sent from Washington, each team will have to constitute a robot capable of recovering, storing and moving plastic balls. The competition revolves around the theme of sustainable development, specifically water resources, with blue balls representing clean water and orange balls of pollution. More than a competition, it is also a cooperation since every match opposes 2 alliances of 3 nations. There are therefore 6 robots in the arena, who must eliminate the orange balls, and recover the blue balls to store them. Maxime Duménil (UMONS, Scitech²) and Laurent Cardon (JSB) provide training for young people in Belgium.

Once the robot is ready, it is a question of packing it well and to envisage the administrative formalities allowing a passage to the American customs without encumbrance. Accompanied by Guillaume Caulier (JSB facilitator and assistant in Biology at UMONS) and Eleonore Martin (UMONS student in Master in Physics), the 7 young people fly to the United States. The FIRST Global Challenge takes place at DAR Constitution Hall, near the White House, while the team is housed at George Washington University. It’s a big event! After an opening show in the US, robots from more than 160 countries pass the homologation and the tournament begins. To score as many points as possible, pre-game strategic discussions with both Allied teams are crucial; the challenge for young people is therefore also to develop effective means of communication with other young people from countries as exotic as Vanuatu or Azerbaijan. After a series of 8 games, the Belgian team is not finally at the top of the ranking, but in front of some teams of robotics trained for several years and having participated in several competitions, it was clear for Team Belgium that was not going to win the gold medal … but who knows, maybe the milestones are set to allow it in the future?

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