Lessons for RoboCup Junior participants: mistakes happen, communication is key

Mistakes are meant to happen, says veteran RoboCup Junior competitor Liam Whitehouse.

That’s the biggest thing Whitehouse has learned after competing in the education-based robotics challenge from year six through to twelve.

“It never works the first time”, he says.

Now, after winning the National Championships last year with his partner, Whitehouse has joined the Victorian committee and hopes to use his experience supporting younger students.

Most of all, he wants them to know, “if it goes wrong the first time, that’s okay, that happens. How can I fix it?”

Communication and teamwork are also essential for taking part in the robotics challenges, whether that’s working with others as part of a group project, or asking for help as a solo venture, he says.

A range of RoboCup Junior events and workshops are being held around Australia in the lead up to state finals in August and September and national championships in October. 

There are a wide range of challenges – designed to appeal to a diverse range of participants – everything from designing robots to dance or perform in the ‘OnStage’ challenge, playing sport in the ‘Soccer’ challenge, or building a lego-based robotic creature.

Whitehouse and his partner competed in the Rescue competition, a scenario where a robot rescues a patient from an oil spill.

The winning design was a robot about 15cm high, 3D-printed and laser cut, incorporating layers to house sensors, electronics, batteries and motors. Whitehouse says they used an Arduino processor, which uses open source software based on programming language C++.

“I’d say probably one of the bigger and rewarding moments was seeing it all come together because we had put so many hours into it,” he says.

The winning robocup junior design
The winning design / Image supplied by RoboCup Junior

Whitehouse, who is now in the first year of science and engineering degree, says the practical, hands-on nature of the robotics initiative has also improved his spatial awareness and understanding of programming. 

“You make the connection between what you’ve written and typed in code, to an actual visualization of what’s happening,” he says.

He recommends participants in a state or national competition have a mentor or support person with them. This could be a parent, family member, friend, teacher or mentor. 

“Someone who you can talk to, be excited around, you can be sad around,” he says.

“Some of those competitions were the most stressful moments I’ve had in my entire life. When your robot is running on the course, it could work or it could not work. Your heart is beating so fast, it is super stressful. Having someone there who you can talk to who can relate to you can like kind of seek comfort in is super, super necessary.”

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