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Junior robots shape future

The computer scientists and robotics engineers of the future are honing their skills with coordinated dance moves, complex rescue challenges and games of soccer courtesy of the RoboCup Junior program hosted by UNSW.

Hundreds of primary and secondary school students gathered at the John Niland Scientia Building on August 25 and 26 for the NSW finals of the national RoboCup Junior competition. The contest sees students compete in three categories: robot dance, robot rescue and robot soccer.

Now in its 11th year, RoboCup Junior attracts an estimated 4,000 student participants annually around the country.

UNSW's School of Computer Science and Engineering is a major sponsor of the competition at state and national level, offering not only the venue but expert instruction to school teachers and students in the finer points of robotics.

Brad Hall, CSE Development Manager and coordinator of UNSW's champion rUNSWift robot soccer team said the inspiration for the schools-based competition came from rUNSWift's world-beating performance.

"A group of Australian school teachers had seen us competing and thought it looked like fun, so they set up the first RoboCup Junior in Melbourne in 2000," he said.

The RoboCup Junior robots are constructed using off-the-shelf components from kits such as Lego's Mindstorm range and are programmed to act autonomously.

The dance competition requires robots and students to perform a coordinated musical routine together; the rescue competition requires robots to navigate obstacles and achieve the "rescue" of a victim; and the soccer division is a two-on-two contest between two teams seeking sporting supremacy.

UNSW RoboCup Junior coordinator Michael Schofield, from CSE, said the program is an important outreach program for the School, providing professional development opportunities for teachers and weekend and school holiday workshops for students, all with the goal of promoting interest in robotics and computer science.

The program has proved successful in boosting interest in the field, said Mr Hall, particularly among girls: next year one girl who began competing in RoboCup in Year 8 will enrol in an engineering degree with CSE.

For further information about the University of New South Wales, visit www.international.unsw.edu.au or email internationaloffice@unsw.edu.au

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