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USYD helps students explore space robotics

Coding opportunities are now out of this world, and high school students from every state will soon code robots in space for free.

Young space enthusiasts across the country will have the opportunity to control NASA robots inside the International Space Station, as part of a newly-expanded robotics competition.

The Zero Robotics competition is run by NASA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with support from the University of Sydney.

The program has seen significant growth in Australia over the years, with 55 teams from NSW participating in the last competition.

This year though, the University of Sydney has expanded the competition, and encourages students from all states to enter.

“We are thrilled to open up the competition to schools from across Australia – this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to control robots in space,” executive director of space engineering Warwick Holmes said.

“Over the past three years we’ve seen NSW schools perform particularly well in the competition – with many of the schools making it through to the finals where they have had the exciting opportunity to participate in a final run in zero gravity in the ISS with assistance from the astronauts on board.

“Australia is the only country that has had significant growth in the number of participating high school teams, and continues to punch above its weight in terms of making and placing in the finals competition. With even more teams participating going forward, we expect Australia’s strong performance in Zero Robotics to continue.”

The competition has already sparked interest from schools such as St John’s Regional College in Dandenong, Victoria.

St John’s Regional College contemporary learning leader Dion Spoljar said his students were excited to be taking part in the competition this year.

“The possibility of having student-written codes uploaded to the ISS has certainly generated a buzz at our college, and our students are very much looking forward to this experience,” he said.

“Getting students more involved and passionate about STEM learning and allowing them to have a hands-on, real-life application in this field is one of the challenges of modern education.

“Challenging students to program robots to solve challenges in a microgravity environment, as well as to strategise in this international competition, gives us an excellent avenue for developing 21st century mind-sets.”

The Zero Robotics competition will kick-off in Term 2 this year, with the final championship event on-board the ISS to be held in early 2019.

University of Sydney engineering and information technologies students are preparing to virtually mentor participating high school students, and will provide online resources and ongoing training throughout the year.

Over nine months, mentors will guide the teams through the process of learning the computer code, maths and physics behind the motion of the robots, while also helping students develop other valuable skills, including teamwork and effective communication.

First place was last year taken out by James Ruse Agricultural High School, with teams form Gosford High School, Mosman High School, Sydney Boys High School and Sydney Technical High School also reaching the finals.

For more information or to get involved, click here.
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