By Tanja Karp, Patricia Gouws, and Kabelo Pheeha
The Virtual GEAR competition, an international LEGO MINSTORMS EV3 robotics challenge offered to learners aged 14 years old or younger, was held February through May 2017. 17 teams from South Africa, Germany, and the United States of America participated, competing in two different categories: First Timers was reserved to teams with no prior robotics competition experience and Global Competitors had to form international alliances during the competition. All robot design and competition was performed locally and results were uploaded to cloud storage.
In February, teams were given instructions to design their game field for this year’s challenge “Flippin’ Out”, where the robot had to operate in a fast food restaurant and had to deliver orders of hamburgers, chips, drinks, shakes, and ice cream to customers’ trays. They were also asked to create and upload a team introduction video describing where they live, how robotics is implemented at their school/club, and why they are participating in the competition. The videos were shared with all participants and the challenge rules were distributed. Four weeks into the competition, teams uploaded a trial run video, showcasing which tasks their robot could already complete. They received feedback on their performance and had another month to improve their design. By end of April, teams uploaded an engineering design video in which they explained their robot design, team responsibilities, and their game strategy. The competition was finally held during the first week in May and the organizers joined the teams via video-conferencing. The final scoring was determined from the scores at trial run and game day and the quality of their engineering design video.
Teams from South Africa took places 1-4 in the First Timers category and were part of each alliance in the Global Competitors category.
Virtual GEAR was organized jointly by Tanja Karp, an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering from Texas Tech University who is currently a U.S. Fulbright Scholar at UNISA’s Inspired towards Science Engineering and Technology (I-SET) community engagement project and Patricia Gouws and Kabelo Pheeha from I-SET. Training was offered to Science Centre staff in September 2016 through SAASTA and the program was presented at the 2016 SAASTEC Conference in Richards Bay in November. Virtual GEAR is part of the Association of Science Technology Engineering Mathematics and Innovation (ASTEMI). Participation is for free and the next Virtual GEAR competition will launch in January 2018, hopefully with many new robotics teams from Science Centres, schools, and after school clubs.