What is best about Robocup Junior

A team setting up at Robocup Junior.

What is the best thing about Robocup Junior?

It is not the robotics. Teaching kids not just about programming but overcoming real world engineering problems is a great skill set in the modern world. Robotics can be immensely frustrating when your perfectly crafted program fails because the robot gets tangled in the floor surface, or the light in the hall is a brighter than where you did the testing, or when any one of a myriad of other real-world things intrude into the perfect world of the computer. Being able to build and program to deal with that pesky real world takes real learning and skill. Watching so many young kids having put in a huge amount of effort and then, when their robot failed, either scramble to fix things on the fly or stoically deal with it was just great to see at the Sydney competition yesterday.

It is not the teamwork. A bunch of geeky kids working together on a project is a wonder to behold. Giving in to others’ ideas. Sharing their thoughts, successes, failures. These are all things that have high value. The more I read and think about what will make today’s kids into successful adults in this modern world, the more I think the capacity to take your ideas and thoughts and work with others is a crucial element. As we become increasingly specialised there are fewer and fewer places where someone can sit in isolation and create something useful.

It’s not the recognition of a geeky activity. Building robots, really how much more geeky do you get than that? One of the best things I saw at the Sydney competition was that there were so many girls involved: Sadly, though, they mostly were at the younger end – where does their initial enthusiasm go as they get older? Anyway, giving recognition that a non-sporting activity can be entertaining, charming and exiting is so important.

All those things are good. But the best thing is the lack of adult supervision. I can’t think of any other team activity which has the kids organise themselves and do it all by themselves. Sports have got coaches and parents shouting from the sidelines keep the kids on message. Band and choir have someone up the front conducting and adult help getting set up. It goes on. With Robocup the kids get themselves set up, run their show, present to the judges – they do it all by themselves. A group of four or eight young kids doing that successfully without coming to blows or melting down. That’s the best thing about Robocup Junior.

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