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Watch: Colchester youngsters head to the US for Robot contest

PUBLISHED: 19:30 04 April 2019

Members of the North School roboteers preparing for a trip to Kentucky. Picture: Colchester North Primary School

Members of the North School roboteers preparing for a trip to Kentucky. Picture: Colchester North Primary School

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Pupils from a Colchester Primary School are preparing for a trip to the US after winning a competition to design a new robot with artificial intelligence.

The five youngsters from North Primary are heading to Kentucky to represent the UK after winning the VEX IQ Challenge competition – when they were also up against senior schools.

The five roboteers, Talia, Joe, Alex, Joel and Will, are now able to head to the international competition after the school obtained sponsorship from tech giants Qumodo and Google.

Led by the school’s IT specialist and club organiser, Sheila Walker, the young engineers, aged 10 and 11, built their robot “JAWTY” out of a plastic construction system, similar to Lego.

They’ve designed, built and programmed it to perform tasks in the form of a game.

First came success against mostly secondary school opponents at the regional VEX IQ Challenge heats in Colchester.

This earned their place at the action-packed two-day national finals in Telford earlier this month which saw primary and secondary schools from across the UK competing to be crowned UK champion.

After being judged on their driving skills, remote control, programming skills, teamwork and collaboration, the team won the top award – the Elementary Excellence Award – and were named best primary school robot team in the UK, with a place in the world finals of the Vex IQ Challenge, in Louisville, Kentucky, from 28 April to 1 May.

Chris Calver, Head of Education at Colchester-based company Rapid Electronics which supports and sponsors the challenge said: “It’s no secret that the UK is facing some turbulent times. We need students to have a strong interest in STEM from an early age and for them to understand what engineering careers actually looks like.

Mrs Walker said: “The children worked tirelessly building and adapting their robot and then practised programming and controlling it during their lunchtime breaks and after school.

“They were so excited to win the nationals, but we really thought that was the end of our journey. To get sponsorship so that we can take the robot to the USA to represent the UK is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these children, which they will remember forever.”

Alan Garnett, headteacher at North Primary School and Nursery, said: “We’ve been running Robot Club for three years now, as an extension activity for children with a particular aptitude for science.

“Never for a minute did we foresee that the club would lead to taking a group of children to America to represent their country in an international competition.

“I’d like to thank our generous sponsors for enabling us to give our children such an incredible experience.

Benjamin Gancz CEO of Qumodo said: “As a company we rely heavily on science, technology, engineering and maths to build intelligent machines which help make the world a safer place.”

“Our collective passion for these subjects were formed from a young age, which is why we are very excited to be partnering with North School to support, inspire and nurture the next generation of scientists and engineers. We are proud to be working with such an amazing group of youngsters.”

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