Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Kids line up to compete in robotics Olympiad

By Evelyn Shih  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Competitors set up robots for a duel during a press conference promoting the World Robot Olympiad, an Asia Pacific competition for robot design for 10- to 18-year-olds, which starts in September.

PHOTO: LU CHUN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

On Sept. 5 in Taipei, elementary, middle-school and high-school children from ages 10 to 18 will exhibit their creativity and problem-solving skills -- and also compete for a national robotics championship -- at the World Robot Olympiad, a robot-design competition for the Asia-Pacific region, the National Taiwan Science Education Center said.

"By simplifying the complex technical issues of robotics, we distill the process down to core issues of problem-solving and we allow children to engage in hands-on learning as early as the third grade," said Johnson Jan of K. Kingdom, the local company working with Lego's educational division.

Using Lego blocks and a program designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) called Mindstorms, competitors will devise their own robots within a specified period of time, programming them to overcome obstacles and compete in activities like wrestling and soccer. A creative-design category gives middle-school and high-school participants free rein to construct robots that fit in with this year's theme -- competitive sports.

Winners of the Sept. 5 event will go on to represent the nation in Singapore in November at the international competition.

The Olympiad began as a Korean competition that was designed by academics and educators, according to Jan. The competition expanded to become a regional and international one five years ago. This year, children from 14 nations are expected to participate, including China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Russia and Australia.

Lego blocks were chosen by the Olympiad as the basic material for the robot contest because of their child-friendly design and educational value, said Sandra Googan, Asia Pacific manager of the Lego Educational Division.

"In the 25 years since Lego established its educational division, we've made it our particular mission to engage children in their own education," she said.

Googan said that Lego's collaboration with MIT and other universities has been successful in creating a set of classroom materials. Further collaboration with government officials and educators worldwide has brought about the wide promotion of Lego's educational philosophy, she said.

"Lego and Mindstorms materials have already become standard curriculum staples in countries like Japan and Singapore," Jan said.

"In Taiwan, we've been working mostly with science education centers like the center, and with select schools," he said.

Teacher-training sessions and classes in robotics for children are held at the center, and drills for the Olympiad are held at other locations across the country, Jan said.

"As the main sponsor of the event, we're paying out of pocket to send Taiwanese representatives to Singapore," he added.

"We hope to gain more government and private support for our mission in the future," Jan said.

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