Young Russian engineers succeed at FLL international competition
28 April 2014
Young Russian engineers take flood defence crown at US FIRST robotics competition.
Volnoe Delo Oleg Deripaska Foundation is delighted to announce that six young robotics engineers supported by the Foundation have secured third place at the FIRST Lego League International (FLL) competition in St. Louis for the presentation of their flood-defence project.
Moscow-based schoolchildren have come up with a new approach to tackling floods using a LEGO robot. The project came top of all flood-defence ideas and finished third overall in the FIRST Lego League International (FLL) competition in St. Louis this month, an event which brought together over 80 teams of young engineers from 36 countries.
The theme for this year’s competition in St. Louis was Nature’s Fury Challenge over 800 children worldwide took part, examining ways of dealing with earthquakes, floods, typhoons and other natural disasters. Team Arbuziki, six children aged between 10 and 12 with a passion for Java coding and programming robots, chose flood as their target. The children designed, built and programmed a LEGO Flood Saver which consists of a robot-pump and water-filled barriers.
The kids created a model of a river’s bed that is quickly filled with water, imitating heavy rains. When the water level reaches a critical point, a sensor embedded in the robot, switches on a pump. The robot starts pumping the water into inflatable rubber barriers resembling sleeves that are installed on the both sides of the embankment.
Arbuziki admit that their invention “won’t be able to cover the entire river’s length with a barrier, it will block low-lying areas only, the most dangerous in flood.”
“First of all we would install barriers in places where there is a danger of damaging historic, cultural and other important objects to ensure they stay safe in the case of flood,” says Georgy Grechko, a 10-year-old robotics specialist.
Next generation of Russian robotics
St. Louis competition is the second global-scale event for Arbuziki. Last year they travelled to the U.S. to showcase the EyesTronic Cap, a smart hat that helps to navigate in the dark or when visibility is reduced due to air pollution. The cap works on a technology similar to that of parking sensors: as a person wearing a cap approaches an obstacle, a Lego robot installed on top of the hat starts beeping with a varying frequency depending on the proximity to the obstacle.
Ilya Bulygin of Arbuziki demonstrated the EyesTronic Cap to Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu at the Defence Ministry’s exhibition of innovations in August 2013.
Arbuziki have also won numerous awards at Russian nationwide robotics festival, Robofest. Set up in 2007, Robofest has become the biggest robotics festival in Europe. In 2013 it was held for the fifth time and gathered more than 2,200 pupils and students from 45 regions of Russia, as well as their peers from abroad.
The idea of Robofest was born when Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s richest and most successful businessmen, visited the FIRST global robotics competition in 2007 to see hundreds of children and teenagers enthusiastically build robots, eager to put their skills into action.
At that moment, there were no such engineering initiatives or programs in Russia and the support of robotics became a key focus for Mr Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo Foundation.
Volnoe Delo’s activities are primarily in the education space. It enables children and young people aged 8 to 25 study to mechatronics and programming in resource centers created within schools, colleges, technical schools and universities. Over 10,000 across Russia’s 47 regions take part in the programme.
Robotics participants pass exams to take part in engineering and technical competitions during RoboFest.
Since 2010 Russia became the third country to host the RoboCross car contest after the U.S. and Europe. The winners of RoboFest and RoboCross represent Russia at international robotics competitions and participate in exchange programs and internships in the USA, Europe and Asia.
Engineering skills for the future
Russia, which now faces a decline in the popularity of engineering professions, is trying to restore the attractiveness of the word ‘engineer’ for young kids and teens who strive to become celebrities, footballers, entrepreneurs or heads of multinational corporations.
The issue of engineering and technology skills shortages is a familiar one in Britain and globally. Leading international business figures such as Sir James Dyson have spoken publicly about their difficulties hiring enough engineers to support growth plans. UK Business Secretary Vince Cable has referred to skills shortages as a “massively serious problem” and underlined the importance of early action, saying: “To encourage a young person to take up an engineering career starts at age 10 or 12 and it takes a decade or more to produce a professional engineer.”
Robotics events such as RoboFest could be an important part of the solution. When asked about their career aspirations, all of Arbuziki team members admitted they wanted to become “mathematicians, robotics engineers and programmers”.