Student-Built Robots to Tackle Energy Efficiency in International Competition

In two months, student challengers from around the world will be meeting in Mexico to tackle “energy efficiency problems” using robots they’ve built themselves. The annual FIRST Global is a STEM focused international non-profit that runs international robotics competitions for high schoolers in nearly 160 countries. The goal (besides sorting out the hundreds of components in build kits) is to connect people “with different backgrounds, languages, religions and customs.”

Each year the FIRST Global Challenge tackle a “grand challenge” put forth by National Academies of Engineering in the United States, United Kingdom and China. This year’s event takes place between August 15 and 18 at the Arena Ciudad de México in Mexico City. The theme is “energy impact.”

During the game, two “village alliances,” each including teams from three different countries, will compete to generate more energy than the other village, according to a YouTube video about the competition. The alliances will use four power generators — solar, wind, shared reaction and combustion — on the “field” (the playing arena). The teams’ three robots need to deliver “power cubes” to a power generation station, where they’ll be placed in a slot by a human player to connect powerlines. Other robotic activities, such as delivery of solar panels and cranking of wind turbines, will rack up additional scoring — accumulation of kilojoules — in specific categories. A “coopertition powerline” bonus will be given to both alliances when they place cubes from the opposing side into their own slots.

After a first round for every team, those ranked the highest will play additional rounds with randomly assigned alliance partner, until a final winner is called.

The winners for last year’s competition, which took place in Washington, D.C., was a team of teenage girls from Afghanistan. The girls had made a 500-mile trip to the American Embassy in Kabul, where they found out their visas to the United States would be denied. (According to reporting by the New York Times, visa applications were also denied for teams from 60 other countries as well, all of which eventually were allowed to enter the country.) Following an “international outcry” the United States reversed its decision, allowing the girls in through a “parole” process that covers “otherwise ineligible visitors on humanitarian grounds or because it benefits the public.”

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